Campfield Thinks He’s Above the Law

Legislative immunity?  Okay, I’ve just spent the last half hour pouring through the state code and find no law that establishes any such thing.  Am I looking in the wrong place or has Campfield just made up an exception for himself so that he doesn’t have to follow the law?

Can we call it Campfield’s rule?

21 thoughts on “Campfield Thinks He’s Above the Law

  1. The TN State Constitution I think is what he is relying on (Art. II Sec. 13): “Senators and Representatives shall, in all cases, except treason, felony, or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during the session of the General Assembly, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.”

    Since a blog isn’t a speech or debate within the House, I don’t see how it applies, though.

  2. The Constitutional passage cites speaks to immunity from criminal arrest on misdemeanor grounds during the course of a session. It confers NO immunity from civil suit — which is what a libel suit is — it’s asking for monetary damages for a harm done to a person, not for jail time because of some offense that harms the peace and order of the state.

    Likewise, they can say any damn thing on the floor of the House during a speech or debate and they can’t be prosecuted or even questioned for that during the run of the session — except, of course, that they can be disciplined by the House rules within the House itself.

    However, blogging is not making a speech on the House floor and his publication of false statements on a blog about a member of the opposition party during a campaign did not happen in the course of floor debate. The TN constitution is pretty explicit about the location and circumstances in which immunity is conferred (and there are good historical reasons for both the clause conferring immunity and the limitations on that immunity). Since he didn’t utter the statements on the statehouse floor in speech or debate, he’s going to have a tough time demonstrating that he has immunity, even if he tries to say that his blog is part of his “official acts” as a legislator.

  3. Bridgett, I believe you are mistaken with regard to immunity not applying to a libel suit. Legislative immunity applies to any kind of state law suit, including – as you mention – criminal prosecution AS WELL AS suits for damages, injunctions, and declaratory judgments.

    But I agree with you that he is going to have a difficult time showing that his blog is part of the “deliberative” process of the legislature, which as you note is the standard here.

  4. A better defense would be “I’m an idiot and I didn’t know that what I was printing was false.” It’s not enough to show that what went out was factually inaccurate; you have to demonstrate that Campfield actually knew what the truth was.

    For once, his legendary stupidity is a positive defense.

  5. Adam, perhaps I’m wearing my revolutionary historian pants here as I’m constructing the passage you cite, but the three exceptions (treason, felony, and the single misdemeanor of breach of peace) are all crimes against state order, so I guess I inferred (as it was in the beginning) that they were most concerned with curtailing sedition and violent behavior. It was the case in post-revolutionary America where legislators sought protection from civil suit (libelous private letters that got published would be the closest post-revolutionary analogy) and especially debt collection and were told by the courts tough cookies.

  6. Andy, there would be something so perfect about Campfield ending up being too stupid to be held accountable for the things he says that I hope you are right.

  7. Does Tennessee case law deal with delayed retraction? I am under the impression that Campfield was informed early on that what he printed was a lie and that he did not retract once he knew or should have known that he was in error. In that case, the “I’m stupid and talk out my ass and everyone should know not to believe me” defense would be substantially undercut.

  8. This is bizarre. Why would he claim his blog is covered by legislative immunity, not covered by the U.S. Constitution’s protection of free speech? Sounds like he’s trying to claim special privileges to himself that other bloggers are not entitled to.

  9. Southern Beale, Campfield think that he’s above the laws he makes for others? You must be kidding me. Why, next you’ll tell me that he makes his tenants live in poo!

  10. Bridgett, I believe you are taking the two granted immunities within this passage together, whereas the legal precedent interprets them as two different immunities. The first immunity is from arrest (which obviously involves criminal charges with the exception of the cases specifically mentioned) and the second immunity is from any criminal or civil judgment based on anything spoken in the legislature’s deliberative process. See Mayhew v. Wilder, 46 S.W.3d 760, 775 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001).

    Here’s an Attorney General’s opinion on a related matter of whether or not an accused judge could sue over defamatory statements during the course of a impeachment hearing:

  11. The Franks often pimp him out for national office. That would be fun. We should elect him Senator and have him seated as close to Al Franken as possible. Oh, that would be fun.

  12. I’ve been reading some of the case law, there is a basis for legislative immunity in the common law, which applies even if it’s not codified into the statute. But it’s pretty clear that it would only apply to words spoken in the course of his duties as a legislator, and I don’t believe that stretches into campaigns.

  13. Aunt B.

    Do you think he’ll get away with this? Anyone know how his legal trouble over his rental property is going? Remember, in that case he threatened his tenents with his “power” as a state rep? What a shmoe.

  14. Only thing I’d add is a reference to litigation privilege, which is a different manifestation of the same concept – namely, that negative allegations and opinions don’t generally constitute libel or slander if they are made while writing (legislative privilege) or enforcing (litigation privilege) the law. Judges saying bad things about people in their rulings are covered by judicial privilege.

    As Goldnl points out, these privileges aren’t blanket grants of immunity covering everything said by a legislator, litigant, or judge.

  15. The Franks often pimp him out for national office. That would be fun.

    Yes but we’d have to make him show us his birth certificate since with that ginormous head of his, he really does look like a space alien.

  16. I’m willing to knock Campfield all day, but not about his big head, since I have the largest cranium of anybody I know. If we start rounding up big headed people, I’ll be on the bus right next to Stacy.

  17. I’ll cut to the chase…Stacy Campfield was dropped on his little pointy head one too many times as a baby. His idea of “legislative immunity” is possibly the most insane thing I’ve ever heard from him, and since most of what he says has just a smidge of madness running through it, that’s saying a lot.

    What next, “diplomatic immunity” because he is an ambassador from the land of the all-knowing and all-superior to the hordes of unwashed masses that must hear and heed his message?

    I’m thinking he lives in the State of Confusion, which has the River De Nial running straight through

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