CyberWire Dispatch: Indecent Senator Hyde

Washington, DC -- Hell hath no fury like a piece of legislation that comes around and bites its author on the ass. Enter Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).You remember Hyde. He's the wheezing, corpulent, white-haired gnome on steroids that snuck language into the telecom reform bill that makes it a crime to even mention abortion in an electronic format.Hyde's pathetic legislative slight of hand revived the all but dead Comstock Act, which was enacted when General Ulysses S. Grant was president. It was aimed at stopping activists of the day from distributing printed abortion information.Oh, the humiliation of it all. First, Hyde was little more than the water boy for Sen. James Exon (D-Neb.), being made to introduce Exon's Communications Indecency Act language into the House telecom reform bill. Second, even as my gnarled fingers hammer out this Dispatch, the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of other groups are in a Philly court, claiming provisions of the reform bill that Hyde helped make law are unconstitutional.Now, I don't know about you, but I wouldn't exactly be thrilled having to shoulder the shame of being known as the legislator that wrote such an egregious rat bastard bill that the courts deem it unconstitutional.In fact, when the courts do overturn this blatant affront to free speech, those in Congress responsible for it should be impeached. The charge? Criminal negligence and terminal ignorance of the Constitution they have sworn an oath to serve.And when that happens, we can call it the "Hyde Factor." Just imagine, lawmakers would forever live in fear of writing legislation that would raise the specter of the "Hyde Factor" kicking in.I'm licking my chops already, thinking of standing up during a press conference to ask: "Senator, with all the controversy surrounding this bill, aren't you afraid the fallout might invoke the 'Hyde Factor'?" And then I would sit down and watch the little beads of sweat form on the Senator's upper lip.As if all this weren't enough, consider the twisted political vortex Hyde finds himself in today, as the Subcommittee on the Constitution, which falls under his chairmanship as head of the House Judiciary Committee, holds an oversight hearing on abortion procedures.POLITICAL PRETZEL LOGIC In preparation for the hearing, Hyde sent letters to all those asked to testify. In that March 8 letter, a copy of which was obtained by Dispatch, Hyde says that the Subcommittee "puts prepared statements for hearings on the Internet to allow access to the public." To facilitate that, Hyde asked that all testimony be included on a disk.The Murder, She Wrote fans among you will have already sniffed out the thinly veiled plot about to unfold here.A March 15 letter to Hyde from Kathryn Kolbert, vice president of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, on behalf of a doctor asked to testify at the hearing, lays bear Hyde's political pretzel logic.The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Dispatch, tells Hyde that the doctor he asked to testify must decline. Kolbert is representing the doctor in litigation challenging an Ohio bill which bans certain abortion procedures. However, "[m]ost importantly, your March 8, 1996 invitation is clear that the... prepared statements for hearings be put on the Internet," Kolbert says. If the doctor were to comply with such a request he "is extremely concerned that this practice may subject him to criminal liability" as defined under the same language that Hyde himself inserted in the telecom bill that criminalizes the transferring of abortion information on the Internet!The doctor's testimony "could be considered advertising, something you explicitly said would be criminal," Kolbert wrote to Hyde. "Moreover, discussion of the availability of abortion at his facilities, as well as the medical aspects of the procedure, may be criminal violation under the explicit terms of the new telecommunications law," she says.This one incident speaks volumes. Not only about extreme chilling effects of the anti-indecency provisions in this bill, but also about how truly clueless Hyde appears to be with respect to his own legislation.And remember, this was testimony to be held before the CONSTITUTION Subcommittee. Hello? Maybe Hyde should tap that campaign war chest and buy a fucking clue.Like I said, when the anti-indecency provisions of this bill are deemed unconstitutional, they should hold impeachment hearings based on criminal stupidity. If nothing else, it will give the media hacks a new catch phrase: "And now, Sir, about that pesky 'Hyde Factor'..."

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