Federal judge upholds U.S. House Republicans’ fines for dodging metal detectors

By: - August 2, 2022 3:13 pm

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, cooperates with U.S. Capitol Police as she screened at a metal detector at the doors of the House of Representatives Chamber during a series of votes on Jan. 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit from three U.S. House Republicans challenging fines they incurred for violating a post-Jan. 6 requirement that members pass through metal detectors before coming to the House floor.

U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly on Monday dismissed the suit brought by Reps. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, Lloyd Smucker of Pennsylvania and Louie Gohmert of Texas — all of whom were fined for entering the House chamber without being screened.

Kelly, a judge in D.C. federal court, said the fines were an internal House matter that federal courts don’t have the authority to rule on.

The House’s Democratic majority adopted a resolution on Feb. 2, 2021, requiring members to pass through metal detectors, also called magnetometers, to screen for weapons before they stepped onto the House floor. The action came less than a month after the Capitol was attacked by supporters of President Donald Trump and codified a rule the House Sergeant at Arms had imposed.

The measure imposed a $5,000 fine for the first offense and $10,000 for all future infractions.

The day after the House adopted the resolution, Clyde went around a metal detector as he went to the floor.

Two days after that, he passed through a metal detector, but declined secondary screening after it went off. The members’ lawsuit said Clyde’s phone set off the device, and he told the officer he needed to vote. He was fined $15,000 in total.

On Feb. 4, Gohmert went through a security screening en route to the House floor, but then left and reentered without a second screening. The complaint said Gohmert had also left the floor and reentered without another screening the day before without incident. He was fined $5,000.

On May 19, 2021, Smucker hurried to the floor. Believing he had mere seconds to vote on a bill, he rushed past the magnetometers, telling security he would stay within their line of sight and return for a screening after voting. The House Sergeant at Arms fined him $5,000.

All three members appealed their fines to the House Ethics Committee, which ruled against them. Clyde and Gohmert sued in June 2021 and Smucker joined them the next month.

Kelly, a judge appointed by President Donald Trump, ruled that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause protected the House from lawsuits. The screening requirement and the fines imposed for breaking them were legislative acts and therefore outside the courts’ authority to rule on, Kelly said.

“The security screening, fining, and salary deductions challenged here have a direct nexus to, and are part of an overall scheme regulating, Members’ behavior in the lawmaking atmosphere on the House floor,” he wrote. “Thus, these acts qualify as legislative acts.”

Representatives for Clyde, Smucker and Gohmert did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

The Republicans said in their June 2021 complaint that the magnetometer rule was unfairly applied and that House Democrats who broke the policy were not fined.

The rule also caused a handful of Republican members, including Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Chris Smith of New Jersey and Brad Wenstrup of Ohio, to miss votes, the suit said.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.