In March of 2013 while serving as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tom Cotton proposed punishing family members of anyone violating U.S. sanctions to Iran with up to 20 years in prison with “no investigation” or trial.
According to Cotton, family members targeted for punishment include any relative to the third degree such as “spouses… parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grand kids, great grand kids.”
It’s a nice 16th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.
According to Huffington Post, the provision introduced by Cotton was “an amendment to the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, which lays out strong penalties for people who violate human rights, engage in censorship, or commit other abuses associated with the Iranian government.”
Cotton told a markup hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the matter that:
There would be no investigation. If the prime malefactor of the family is identified as on the list for sanctions, then everyone within their family would automatically come within the sanctions regime as well. It’d be very hard to demonstrate and investigate to conclusive proof. [emphasis added]
Noting that: “Article III of the Constitution explicitly bans Congress from punishing treason based on “corruption of blood” — meaning that relatives of those convicted of treason cannot be punished based only on a familial tie,” Huffington Post reported that:
The amendment immediately sparked objections from several members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who noted that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process rights to anyone charged with a crime under American law.
The Arkansas News reported that:
At the committee meeting, Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., raised concerns that Cotton’s proposal would visit the sins of uncles on nephews and provide no due process to family members who would face sanctions that could include a 20-year jail sentence.
“I really question the constitutionality of a provision that punishes nephews on account of the actions of uncles,” Grayson said.
According to Huffington Post, Cotton disagrees, stating that:
“Iranian citizens do not have constitutional rights under the United States Constitution,” Cotton said. “I sympathize with their plight if they are harmless, innocent civilians in Iran. I doubt that that is often the case.” [emphasis added]
The Arkansas News reported that: the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued statement in response to Cotton’s proposal stating that it would “completely disregard American citizens’ due process rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment.”
“To call Tom Cotton an extreme ideologue is not overstating anything. He is proposing legislation that would eliminate the constitutional right to due process for grandchildren, nieces and nephews of Americans accused of a crime,” said Justin Barasky, a DSCC spokesman.
After some debate Cotton withdrew the amendment at the suggestion of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-C).
1) Offering an amendment to legislation is not legislation. I differ; at a minimum it’s a distinction with no practical difference.
2) It was withdrawn. All have noted this. It’s the thought that counts.
3) The penalties he proposed would be financial and travel, not jail. I thought Republicans held property to be sanctified above just about everything. Taking money by force of law sounds pretty severe to me. Sounds a lot like a “fine.”
4) Constitutional points aren’t relevant because he would punish only non-citizens. Yes, but our courts have held the Fifth Amendment protections can apply to non-citizens.