THE SPEECH OR DEBATE CLAUSE
A. Legislative Activities Are Protected.
The bedrock for any claim of immunity or privilege by a United States Congressman is Article I, § 6, cl. 1 of the Constitution of the United States, which provides, inter alia, that "for any Speech or Debate in either House, they [Members of Congress] shall not be questioned in any other Place." The clause was designed to protect Senators and Representatives from prosecutions which threaten the legislative process, to prevent their intimidation by the Executive Branch of Government and to shield them from accountability before a potentially hostile judiciary. Doe v. McMillan, 412 U.S. 306, 311, 93 S. Ct. 2018, 2024, 36 L. Ed. 2d 912 (1973); Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606, 616, 617, 92 S. Ct. 2614, 2622, 2623, 33 L. Ed. 2d 583 (1972).
To effectuate the purposes of the Speech or Debate Clause, the courts have often read it broadly. United States v. Johnson, 383 U.S. 169, 180, 86 S. Ct. 749, 755, 15 L. Ed. 2d 681 (1966); Doe v. McMillan, supra, at 311, 93 S. Ct. at 2024; Gravel v. United States, supra, at 624, 92 S. Ct. at 2626. Within its protections, the clause embraces everything "generally done in a session of the House by one of its members in relation to the business before it." Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U.S. 168, 204, 26 L. Ed. 377 (1881); Doe v. McMillan, supra, at 311, 93 S. Ct. at 2024; Gravel v. United States, supra, at 624, 92 S. Ct. at 2626; United States v. Brewster, 408 U.S. 501, 509, 512-13, 92 S. Ct. 2531, 2536, 2537-38, 33 L. Ed. 2d 507 (1972); Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 502, 89 S. Ct. 1944, 1954, 23 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1969); United States v. Johnson, supra, at 179, 86 S. Ct. at 754. The conduct thus protected includes not only the remarks of Senators and Representatives in Congressional speeches and debates, but also their voting, their participation in legislative committee hearings, and their preparation of committee reports. Doe v. McMillan, supra, at 311-12, 93 S. Ct. at 2024; Gravel v. United States, supra, at 624, 92 S. Ct. at 2626. So long as Congressmen act within the "legislative sphere," they are immune from criminal and civil liability. Doe v. McMillan, supra, at 311-12, 93 S. Ct. at 2025; Gravel v. United States, supra, at 624-25, 92 S. Ct. at 2626-27.
B. Political Activities Are Not Protected.
Not everything that a Congressman may regularly do, however, is a legislative act. Doe v. McMillan, supra, at 313, 93 S. Ct. at 2025; United States v. Brewster, supra, at 512, 92 S. Ct. at 2537. In United States v. Brewster, supra, Chief Justice Burger discussed in some detail these non-legislative activities of Congressmen, the reasons why Congressmen perform them, and their relation to the Speech or Debate Clause.
"It is well known, of course, that Members of the Congress engage in many activities other than the purely legislative activities protected by the Speech and Debate Clause. These include a wide range of legitimate 'errands' performed for constituents, the making of appointments with Government agencies, assistance in securing Government contracts, preparing so-called 'news letters' to constituents, new releases, and speeches delivered outside the Congress. The range of these related activities has grown over the years. They are performed in part because they have come to be expected by constituents, and because they are a means of developing continuing support for future elections. Although these are entirely legitimate activities, they are political in nature rather than legislative, in the sense that term has been used by the Court in prior cases. But it has never been seriously contended that these political matters, however appropriate, have the protection afforded by the Speech or Debate Clause." Id. at 512, 92 S. Ct. at 2537. (Emphasis added.)