I know, I haven’t written much about the North Dakota Legislature this year. Too many other things on my mind. But I followed it, read about it daily and shook my head in amazement over the stupid things the Republican majority did. I won’t tick them off here — you know what I am talking about.
But something caught my attention and jarred old memories near the end of the session, and I’ve been wondering about it, so I thought I’d put something here and see if anyone can help me work through this puzzle.
It’s the story, of which I was reminded in the paper this week, of Minot Rep. Scott Louser, the assistant Republican House majority leader, getting picked up near the end of the session for drunk driving. The latest story says he has pleaded not guilty, in spite of a blood alcohol level well over the legal limit, and will stand trial later this year.
Here’s the puzzle: Doesn’t he know about Article IV, Section 15, of the North Dakota Constitution, which says:
“Section 15. Members of the legislative assembly are immune from arrest during their attendance at the sessions, and in going to or returning from the sessions, except in cases of felony …”
In other words, he can drive drunk but can’t be arrested for it.
Louser is not the first legislator to get a DUI while in attendance at the North Dakota legislative session. I can recall two, back in the 1970s: Minot Sen.Morrie Anderson and Jamestown Sen. Bob Melland. Melland’s case sticks with me a little more clearly — I think I remember he was out drinking on the Strip in Mandan and got picked up heading back to his hotel.
I don’t remember the outcome, but I know he claimed legislative immunity from arrest and was never charged. Anderson’s case is a little more murky. I know I have a few readers who are older than me (not many, though) who might remember the outcome of these cases. If you do, let me know.
So the question is, why hasn’t Louser invoked his constitutional right to immunity from arrest? He’s got a pretty good lawyer. I’m curious why he wants to let it play out, with all the attendant publicity and danger of big fines, jail time and giant insurance premium increases, when he could just shuck it, take a bad PR hit now and have it over with. And keep his driver’s license. One of his constituents told me this week, “It’s not going to affect his ability get re-elected up here.”
I remember back in the 1970s, I think it was the 1977 session, when Melland claimed immunity. It was all over the front page of The Bismarck Tribune. For one day. I remember thinking at the time it was a pretty ballsy thing to do. But then, those were back in the days when legislators actually had balls. As opposed to the weenies we elect these days.