Inquiry in aid of legislation
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The congressional power of investigation, which is also known as the "inquiry in aid of legislation", is one of the three categories under its oversight powers (see Congressional oversight).
The Congressional power of inquiry is expressly recognized in Section 21 of Article VI of the Constitution:
SECTION 21. The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.
Even without this express Constitutional provision, the power of inquiry is inherent in the power to legislate. The power of inquiry, with process to enforce it, is grounded on the necessity of information in the legislative process. If the information possessed by executive officials on the operation of their offices is necessary for wise legislation on that subject, by parity of reasoning, Congress has the right to that information and the power to compel the disclosure thereof.
Rationale of the power of inquiry
The Supreme Court discussed the rationale of the Congressional power of inquiry in Arnault vs. Nazareno, thus: "the power of inquiry — with process to enforce it — is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to effect or change; and where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information — which is not infrequently true — recourse must be had to others who do possess it. Experience has shown that mere requests for such information are often unavailing, and also that information which is volunteered is not always accurate or complete; so some means of compulsion is essential to obtain what is needed."
Function under the separation of powers
Under the separation of powers, Congress has the right to obtain information from any source - even from officials of departments and agencies in the executive branch. It is this very separation that makes the congressional right to obtain information from the executive so essential, if the functions of the Congress as the elected representatives of the people are adequately to be carried out.
Coverage of the power of inquiry
The power of inquiry is broad enough to cover officials of the executive branch. The power of inquiry is co-extensive with the power to legislate. The matters which may be a proper subject of legislation and those which may be a proper subject of investigation are one. It follows that the operation of government, being a legitimate subject for legislation, is a proper subject for investigation. Since Congress has authority to inquire into the operations of the executive branch, it would be incongruous to hold that the power of inquiry does not extend to executive officials who are the most familiar with and informed on executive operations.
Limitations and exemptions
The power of Congress, both the Senate and the House of Representatives, to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation is not absolute or unlimited. The investigation must be "in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure" and that "the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected," as provided in the Constitution. The rights of persons under the Bill of Rights must be respected, including the right to due process and the right not to be compelled to testify against one's self.  As now contained in the 1987 Constitution (Section 21, Article VI), the power of Congress to investigate is circumscribed by three limitations, namely:
- (a) It must be in aid of its legislative functions.
- (b) It must be conducted in accordance with duly published rules of procedure.
- (c) The persons appearing therein are afforded their constitutional rights, including the right to be represented by counsel and the right against self-incrimination.
Executive Privilege as a limitation
The President, on whom executive power is vested, is beyond the reach of Congress, except through the power of impeachment. It is based on the President's position as the highest official of the executive branch, and the due respect accorded to a co-equal branch of government which is sanctioned by a long-standing custom. See Executive privilege.
The Supreme Court
Members of the Supreme Court are exempt from this power of inquiry on the basis not only of separation of powers but also on the fiscal autonomy and the constitutional independence of the judiciary.
Publication of Rules of Procedure
Section 21, Article VI of the Constitution states that: "The Senate or the House of Representatives or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of person appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected"
In the case of Neri,, involving the Senate, the Supreme Court stated that "the language of Section 21, Article VI of the Constitution requiring that the inquiry be conducted in accordance with the duly published rules of procedure is categorical. It is incumbent upon the Senate to publish the rules for its legislative inquiries in each Congress or otherwise make the published rules clearly state that the same shall be effective in subsequent Congresses or until they are amended or repealed to sufficiently put public on notice."
Availability of judicial review
The power of [[Congress] to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation may be subjected to judicial review pursuant to the Supreme Court's certiorari powers under Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution. Since the right of Congress to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation is, in theory, no less susceptible to abuse than executive or judicial power.
Between the power of inquiry in aid of legislation and question hour
No. Section 21 (inquiry in aid of legislation) and Section 22 (question hour) of Article VI of the Constitution are closely related and complementary to each other, but they do not pertain to the same power of Congress. One specifically relates to the power to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation, the aim of which is to elicit information that may be used for legislation, while the other pertains to the power to conduct a question hour, the objective of which is to obtain information in pursuit of Congress' oversight function. While attendance was meant to be discretionary in the question hour, it was compulsory in inquiries in aid of legislation.
Power to cite in contempt
A person may be cited in contempt and imprisoned in relation to the Congressional exercise of inquiry in aid of legislation, how long will the imprisonment last?
This is tackled by the Supreme Court in Arnault vs. Nazareno, where the petitioner argued that the Senate lacks authority to commit him for contempt for a term beyond its period of legislative session. According to the Supreme Court:
That investigation has not been completed because of the refusal of the petitioner as a witness to answer certain questions pertinent to the subject of the inquiry. The Senate has empowered the committee to continue the investigation during the recess. By refusing to answer the questions, the witness has obstructed the performance by the Senate of its legislative function, and the Senate has the power to remove the obstruction by compelling the witness to answer the questions thru restraint of his liberty until he shall have answered them. That power subsists as long as the Senate, which is a continuing body, persists in performing the particular legislative function involved. To hold that it may punish the witness for contempt only during the session in which investigation was begun, would be to recognize the right of the Senate to perform its function but at the same time to deny to it an essential and appropriate means for its performance. Aside from this, if we should hold that the power to punish for contempt terminates upon the adjournment of the session, the Senate would have to resume the investigation at the next and succeeding sessions and repeat the contempt proceedings against the witness until the investigation is completed-an absurd, unnecessary, and vexatious procedure, which should be avoided. As against the foregoing conclusion it is argued for the petitioner that the power may be abusively and oppressively exerted by the Senate which might keep the witness in prison for life. But we must assume that the Senate will not be disposed to exert the power beyond its proper bounds. And if, contrary to this assumption, proper limitations are disregarded, the portals of this Court are always open to those whose rights might thus be transgressed.