By Donald Scarinci | February 27th, 2013 - 2:59pm
| More

Subpoena power is not reserved for prosecutors.  Congress, State Legislatures and local governing bodies have the authority to issue subpoenas with the same force of law as investigative bodies.

The power to issues subpoenas can be a valuable tool when the legislative branch does not see eye to eye with the executive branch. This recently played out in New Jersey when the Assembly Budget Committee voted to approve a resolution that would authorize the use of subpoenas to compel testimony from employees of the state, state agencies and political subdivisions.

In New Jersey, the power of lawmakers to issue subpoenas is codified by statute. Pursuant to chapter 13 of Title 52 of the Revised Statutes:

Any joint committee of the legislature, any standing committee of either house, or any special committee directed by resolution to enter upon any investigation or inquiry, the pursuit of which shall necessitate the attendance of persons or the production of books or papers, shall have power to compel the attendance before it of such persons as witnesses and the production before it of such books and papers as it may deem necessary, proper and relevant to the matter under investigation. 

Essentially, in order to issue subpoenas, lawmakers must approve a resolution that reconstitutes a Senate or Assembly committee as a special committee convened to conduct a specified investigatory task. It can then be given the authority to issue subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of documents. The resolution need not be approved by the other house or the governor and generally expires in 12 months.

On the federal level, the “power of inquiry” is considered an implied power of Congress. In fact, the Supreme Court has characterized the power to issue subpoenas as “an indispensable ingredient of lawmaking.” Under Congressional rules, all standing committees are authorized to compel witnesses to produce testimony and documents.

Although NJ lawmakers’ subpoena power has generated headlines in recent years, it is actually fairly uncommon at the state level. Lawmakers have issued subpoenas only four times in the past two decades, according to a recent NJ Spotlight article. The last time was in 2012, when the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee was reconstituted as a special committee of the General Assembly to investigate the finances of the Port Authority. Meanwhile, Congress has been far more active in its use of subpoenas, subpoenaing former Major League Baseball pitchers, corporate executives, and the U.S. attorney general in recent years.

On both the federal and state level, the issuance of subpoenas generally leads the legislative and executive branches to come together to reach a solution that meets the needs of both sides. This is largely due to the penalties of failing to comply, which include prison time for contempt. However, in today’s increasingly partisan environment, this may no longer be the case.

 Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

The Back Room

Christie takes state helicopter to campaign in Connecticut

Gov. Chris Christie took the "upper level" -- helicoptering over the George Washington Bridge -- to beat rush hour traffic from his home state to a recent GOP fundraiser with Connecticut gubernatorial contender Tom Foley, according to a Hearst Media report.

Read More >

Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: July 24th

  Of friends, enemies, transactions and transportation: the evolving political relationship of Bob Menendez and Steve Fulop The image yesterday in Washington D.C. of powerful U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) walking the hallways with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop sent a signal of Menendez’s willingness to get behind...

Op-Ed

NJ Legislature must get behind statewide standard of responsible contracting

By Michael Capelli As a 30 year union carpenter, I learned first-hand how important it was to have the right tools for the job. Now as the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the 30,000 men and women of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters I... Read More >

Contributors

 The following letter was sent today to Republican state legislators, county chairs, state committee members, and New Hampshire... more »
(7-23-14) Rabner Opinion Keeps “Christie for President” Alive - Gov. Chris Christie’s fight to prevent same-sex marriage in New Jersey ended with Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.... more »
The Perry-Paul Debate is Healthy for the GOP – and for America  The foreign policy debate in the media between prospective GOP Presidential candidates Texas Governor Rick Perry and... more »
(Washington DC)-- Two recent votes on Capitol Hill suggest an overdue and radical departure from our nation's Draconian and costly War on Drugs.  It's a long-overdue discussion (and not just... more »

Quote of the Day

quote of the day

"Gov. Chris Christie says he won’t campaign for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York because the cause is hopeless: Gov. Andrew Cuomo is ahead by more than 30 points. But he will campaign in New Hampshire, over and over, where the Republican is also trailing by more than 30 points. What’s the reason? It may be that New Hampshire holds the nation’s first presidential primary. It may be that he doesn’t want to mess with Cuomo, who knows where the skeletons are buried at the Port Authority. But one thing is certain: Gov. Straight Talk is spinning again. And it seems to be habit-forming." - columnist Tom Moran

- Star-Ledger

Poll

Which contest are you most focused on this coming season?:

Blogroll

Visit the PolitickerNJ.com/resources page for links to the best collection of information on New Jersey state government.

 

  • Polls
  • The best blogs
  • Columnists
  • State election results
  • Assembly election results
  • Local party websites
  • And more.

PolitickerNJ.com/resources