Paul Ryan Wants to Punish House Members Who Film Protests — Here's Why It Might Be Illegal

December 28th 2016

Mike Rothschild

In response to last summer's Democratic sit-in on the floor of the House, Speaker Paul Ryan is taking drastic measures to curb protests.


Experts on both sides of the aisle believe he's going too far, Politico reports.

Ryan's proposed rule would ramp up current restrictions on the floor to allow the House sergeant-at-arms to enforce fines up to $2,500 for shooting video or taking photos during a session. The sergeant-at-arms is a non-partisan officer elected by the House every term to enforce rules and decorum, and has no role in floor debate.

The proposed rule comes in the aftermath of Ryan's refusal to allow a gun control bill to come to a vote after the Pulse nightclub massacre, which prompted Democratic lawmakers to hold a sit-in to express their outrage.

Ryan ordered the House chamber closed and the C-SPAN cameras turned off, so Democrats defied the House ban on shooting video on the floor to livestream the protest. Using Periscope, Facebook and Twitter, Democrats were able to get the protest televised, and C-SPAN itself picked up a feed from the floor.

The 25-hour protest deeply embarrassed House Republicans, who, according to Politico, began plotting their revenge against the Democrats involved.

Why is Ryan's plan considered unconstitutional?

While the Constitution allows the House as a whole to punish "disorderly behavior," no law or precedent allows one single officer to so.

Politico quotes former GOP lawyer Mike Stern as saying he'd never heard of anything like what Ryan has proposed, and that were Republicans to attempt to fine Democrats for livestreaming, they could find themselves on the other end of a lawsuit.

"Their strongest argument would be: The House doesn’t have the authority to give these officers the power to punish us; only the power of the House can do that, and [Republicans] have short-circuited our rights by the way they’ve done it." Stern told the site.

House Protest Livestream

Former Democratic House counsel Stan Brand agreed with his counterpart, telling Politico that the House sergeant-at-arms has neither the legal power nor protection to levy fines against lawmakers, as opposed to the House disciplining its own members.

House Democrats seemed eager to challenge Ryan over his proposed rule, even before the strong legal consensus lined up against it.

California Democrat Eric Salwell essentially dared Ryan to fine him, inviting the House speak to "Bring it on" in a tweet sent on Monday evening.

(H/T Politico)