Every day when the Congress of the United States is in session and Sen. Roger Jepsen (R-Iowa) is at home in Virginia, he piles into his car and tools toward Washington on I-395, using the lane reserved for cars with four or more occupants. To the naked eye, it seems like Jepsen is merely driving. Actually, he is giving the law the finger.
The other day, Jepsen got stopped while using the lane reserved for car pools. This did not faze him. He explained to the traffic officer that he was a senator of the United States and therefore a very big deal. He asserted because he was commuting to the Capitol, that he was immune from arrest or prosecution under Article I, section 6 of the Constitution. All of this must have awed the officer. She let him go.
And so he drives on, doing what countless others would love to do and getting away with it, not because he is right, but because he can. "He drives it every day," his press aide, James Lafferty said last week. "He drove it today."
There is, of course, almost no reason in the world for Jepsen to think that he is, in fact, immune from either arrest or prosecution for a traffic offense. The courts have long held that the congressional immunity provision of the Constitution does not protect a member of Congress from arrest in either a criminal or a civil case. And if the matter was in doubt, we have only to refer to the recent case of Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio).
In that incident, it was the police themselves who invoked the nonexistent congressional immunity on Stokes' behalf after they said he was driving on the wrong side of the street, making an illegal U-turn, running a red light, and--after they stopped him--had failed to touch the tip of his nose with his finger. Nevertheless, he was not charged and was, instead, driven home. Only later, when the press got hold of the incident, did the authorities decide that there is no such thing as a congressional immunity, and charges, which Stokes has denied, were filed.
But when it comes to Jepsen, the issue is not congressional immunity at all. It is, instead, his incredible sense of entitlement and his colonialist mentality. For some reason, he thinks that because he was elected in Iowa, he is entitled to misuse a highway in Virginia. And because he is in Virginia, where he cannot be held accountable by the voters, he does not much care what he does. You can be sure that Jepsen would never do this sort of thing back home. Or you can be sure that if he did he would be a one-term senator.
Now I, for one, do not use I-395 for commuting. If I did, I think I would break the law just once for the sheer pleasure of running my car up the back of Jepsen's. I state this unequivocally, because this feeling of rage is precisely what comes over me everytime I go to National Airport and pass by, usually while carrying four suitcases and a briefcase that is spilling open, the parking lot reserved for members of Congress and other VIPs. It is then that I get the urge to hurl my suitcases through the windshields of the cars parked there or, less violently, merely tap dance on their hoods.
I know that rank has its privileges. I have been in Washington a long time and before that did a stint in the Army. I am the same person who once saw a cop go to pieces when the owner of a car he was ticketing showed up and turned out to be a senator. "Oh, that's all right," the senator said, "you write it and then downtown they tear it up." Once again, I got the urge to tap dance on a hood.
But the Jepsen case is in a category by itself. Here is a man who tells others to obey the law, while he himself flouts it. Here is a man who says with words that he is for law and order but says by his actions that what really counts is getting caught. Here is someone who acts one way in the Washington area, where there are no votes, and quite another way back home, who represents the mentality of a colonialist.
So drive on, Sen. Jepsen. But don't think you will get away with it. If the cops don't get you someone else will. Sooner or later, someone's going to tap dance on your hood and seek immunity under the oldest grounds of all.