Monday, June 15, 2009

Only in America

Last week, two Democratic Senators in the New York State Senate switched sides, giving a majority to the Republicans and precipitating a change in the Senate leadership. The (now-minority) Democrats responded by doing what Americans normally do: they sued. And on Tuesday the state supreme court issued an injunction barring the change in power.

To New Zealand eyes, this is absolutely bizarre. As part of the Westminster tradition, our courts abide by the Bill of Rights Act 1688's requirement that

the freedome of speech and debates or proceedings in Parlyament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parlyament
A change in officers such as Speaker is an internal proceeding of Parliament, and so the courts can't question it.

What makes it even more bizarre is that US legislatures are also heirs to this tradition (their revolution having happened after the Glorious one), and have similar provisions in place to protect the freedom of speech and internal affairs of their legislatures. The New York State Constitution has such a provision, stating that

For any speech or debate in either house of the legislature, the members shall not be questioned in any other place.
While the US courts have progressively narrowed these clauses, they haven't narrowed them that much, and its difficult to see how they would not extend to cover the selection of officers. Only in America, I guess...