Orrin Kerr speculates plausibly that if Rep. McKinney is charged with an offense relating to her much-disputed altercation with the Capitol Police, it will be a simple misdemeanor, but that it won’t happen
Will the U.S. Attorneys Office charge McKinney with a federal crime? If she is charged, I gather the offense would be a misdemeanor simple assault under 18 U.S.C. 111(a) or 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(5). I dont know who makes these sorts of calls within the U.S. Attorneys Office, or what kinds of cases the U.S. Attorneys Office in D.C. tends to pursue. As a result, I can only offer amateurish speculation. My amateurish speculation, for what its worth, is that the U.S. Attorneys Office will decline prosecution. Three major reasons: First, McKinney was apparently on official business as a member of Congress at the time, and was well within her rights to enter the building without passing through the metal detectors. Second, the officer apparently wasn’t hurt. Third, the story is already a media circus, and will only become much more of a circus if McKinney is charged.
All that makes sense, but I see it differently: I think it’s a felony or nothing. Why? Art. I, sec. 6 of the Constitution privileges Representatives’ and Senators’ access to the chamber:
They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, 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.
For reasons sounding in British history, it was thought important that the executive branch lack the power to block members’ access to the floor. Thus, unless the US Attorney is willing to charge McKinney with felony assault — not an obvious charge under the circumstances — I predict she will win any trial on Constitutional grounds.
It’s true that grabbing hold of McKinney was not an “arrest” in the most common modern sense of “you are going to jail” but it was an “arrest” in the sense of “halting your progress”. (For what little it’s worth, the first OED entry for the noun form of arrest is “The act of standing still, halting, or stopping; stoppage, stop, halt, delay.”) And it’s clear to me that the goal of this Constitutional provision is unimpeded access for our lawmakers — allowing the police to block entry to the Capitol without actually dragging Congresspersons off to the hoosegow would gut this important guarantee that the the executive may not prevent the legislature from meeting.
PS. Might you call it “breach of the peace”? I don’t think so – it’s undisputed that she didn’t start it, and if the cops can stop a Representative who in protesting becomes a “breach of the peace”….