May 15, 2003
DID HOMELAND SECURITY FOLKS help track down fugitive Texas legislators? This story isn't completely clear on that, but it sounds like it:
One federal agency that became involved early on was the Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, based in Riverside, Calif. -- which now falls under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department.
The agency received a call to locate a specific Piper turboprop aircraft. It was determined that the plane belonged to former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center.
The location of Laney's plane proved to be a key piece of information because, Craddick said, it's how he determined that the Democrats were in Ardmore.
"We called someone, and they said they were going to track it. I have no idea how they tracked it down," Craddick said. "That's how we found them."
On the other hand, this seems like a more appropriate response:
Jorge Martinez, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the matter "falls squarely within the purview of state authority, and it would not warrant investigation by federal authorities."
The State of Texas is entirely within its rights to use all of its resources to bring fugitive legislators to meet. Legislative rules allow for that sort of thing most places, and it's reasonable. But it doesn't seem like a federal matter to me.
UPDATE: Via Andrew Sullivan, I discover that Dr. Josh Marshall has been all over this. A reader asks, by the way, why this isn't a federal matter since they crossed a state line to flee. The short answer is that if there were a valid federal statute proscribing interstate flight to avoid a quorum call, then it would be. But although I haven't researched the question, I rather doubt that such a statute exists, and I'd have to think about whether it would be within the scope of Congress's enumerated powers anyway.
Of course, none of this makes it actually illegal for federal officials to share information with state officials. It just means that when they do so, they're not doing their jobs, and they're getting involved in something that it's probably best for them to stay out of. Meanwhile those legislators who don't want Homeland Security information shared for non-Homeland Security purposes would be well-advised to make sure that the law imposes such a ban. Otherwise it will happen.