ST. PAUL, MINN. – Senator Ron Latz issued the following statement in response to growing misperception regarding so-called legislative immunity:
“Legislators can and should be arrested if they drive drunk. This is current law, and it is rightly enforced by the authorities. The U.S. Supreme Court decided this over 100 years ago, in US v. Williamson (1908), cited with approval in Gravel v. US (1972), stating unequivocally that the so-called “privilege from arrest” language in the US Constitution, mirrored in the Minnesota Constitution, applies only in cases of civil arrest and not to criminal conduct. Thus, the proposed bill’s only value is to correct a misperception, largely created by its own advocates and recent media reports. That is not a sufficient justification for passing laws.
We can accomplish the education needed in other ways, and I remain committed to working together with the advocates, law enforcement and all interested parties toward our shared goal.”
The full US Supreme Court language: Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606, 614 (1972):
The last sentence of the Clause provides Members of Congress with two distinct privileges. Except in cases of “Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace,” the Clause shields Members from arrest while attending or traveling to and from a session of their House. History reveals, and prior cases so hold, that this part of the Clause exempts Members from arrest in civil cases only. “When the Constitution was adopted, arrests in civil suits were still common in America. It is only to such arrests that the provision applies.” Long v. Ansell, 293 U. S. 76, 293 U. S. 83 (1934).
“Since . . . the terms treason, felony and breach of the peace, as used in the constitutional provision relied upon, excepts from the operation of the privilege all criminal offenses, the conclusion results that the claim of privilege of exemption from arrest and sentence was without merit. . . .” Williamson v. United States, 207 U. S. 425, 207 U. S. 446 (1908).