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House lawyer: Sansom says recusal is legal. So it is.

In response to questions first raised by Miami Republican Rep. J.C. Planas, House General Counsel Karen Camechis issued this memo that ultimately concludes House Speaker Ray Sansom is in charge of interpreting House rules, so his temporary relinquishment of power is legal:

You asked whether, pursuant to the House Rules, Speaker Sansom’s stated inability to act had the effect of transferring to you the duties, powers, and prerogatives of the Speaker of the House.   The short answer to your question is yes.  By operation of the House Rules you are now vested with the duties, powers, and prerogatives of the Speaker of the House.  

Earlier today, Speaker Ray Sansom issued a written memorandum in which he announced that ongoing legal proceedings have “temporarily created an inability for [him] to carry out [his] responsibilities as Speaker.” 

Speaker Sansom’s inability to carry out his duties triggered House Rule 2.5, a self-executing provision that states, in relevant part:  “The Speaker pro tempore shall exercise the duties, powers and prerogatives of the Speaker in the event of the Speaker’s death, illness, removal, or inability to act, until the Speaker’s successor is elected.”  This provision in Rule 2.5 is consistent with House Rule 1.1(b), which provides that “the House shall choose a Speaker pro tempore, who shall serve in the absence or condition of inability of the Speaker.”

 For purposes of House Rule 2.5, it is irrelevant that Speaker Sansom characterized his inability as “temporary.”  The term “inability to act,” like the term “illness,” does not of necessity denote or even imply a permanent condition.  What is important is that the Speaker has deemed himself unable to act—a condition that, by operation of Rule 2.5, transfers the “duties, powers and prerogatives of the Speaker” to you as the Speaker pro tempore.

It is critical to understand that the transfer of the Speaker’s authority to you did not occur as a result of a delegation of power by the Speaker; rather, the transfer occurred by operation of House Rule 2.5, which was automatically triggered by Speaker Sansom’s “inability to act.”

In his statement, Speaker Sansom referred to his decision to “recuse [himself] from the exercise of [his] duties as Speaker of the House of Representatives.”  The significance of the use of the term “recuse” is that Speaker Sansom has bound himself to refrain from directing your exercise of the powers and prerogatives of the Speaker.  Under the plain terms of Speaker Sansom’s statement, this commitment will remain in effect “until any legal proceedings [he faces] are resolved.”

 In conclusion, I note that, going forward, the interpretation of the House Rules is among the duties, powers and prerogatives that have been vested in you.  Pursuant to House Rule 2.2, “[t]he Speaker shall interpret, apply, and enforce the Rules of the House.”

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