EVERY NOW and then -- this being the capital and place of work for 535 members of Congress--police officers around town have been called in to handle reports involving alcohol, driving and high-ranking legislators. Though this combination is potentially lethal, several well-publicized incidents ended without any arrests--even though to play favorites with the men who make the laws and then break them is unfair and dangerous. Early last Friday morning, yet another such incident was reported; and this time police said the congressman involved--Rep. Louis Stokes of Ohio--claimed congressional immunity.
According to Montgomery County police, a car driven by the congressman was spotted going down the wrong side of the six-lane Randolph Road in Wheaton, then doing an illegal U-turn, running through a red light and beginning another illegal turn onto Georgia Avenue. Police Sgt. Harry Geehreng says Mr. Stokes failed three roadside tests conducted by officers, including reciting the alphabet, walking a straight line and touching his finger to his nose.
But when police checked on Mr. Stokes's claim of immunity, it was upheld by the U.S. Capitol police because he was on his way home from a late-night session of the House. Under Article I, Section 6 of the Constitution, members of Congress are exempt from arrest while in session, and traveling to and from work, except in cases of treason, felony or breach of the peace. According to Stanley Brand, general counsel to the House, the immunity section was intended to prevent harassment of colonial legislators by civil litigants or those acting under orders of the executive branch. But there is some question among experts as to whether this privilege extends to criminal cases.
So much for claims and interpretations--and not much for harassment of an entire local citizenry. Should people here be content to subject themselves to a select, unchecked variety of drunken driving? Or does the driver in such a case have any apologies, suggestions or pledges not to threaten the public safety again? Or is this the sort of example that responsible leaders intend to set for everybody else?