WASHINGTON, D.C. — In one of the most public tests of his political skills since taking office in July, Sen. Al Franken pushed through an amendment Tuesday that would withhold defense contracts from companies like Halliburton if they restrict their employees from taking workplace sexual assault, battery and discrimination cases to court.
"Article 1 Section 8 of our Constitution gives Congress the right to spend money for the welfare of our citizens. Because of this, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, ‘Congress may attach conditions on the receipt of federal funds and has repeatedly employed that power to further broad policy objectives,’" Franken said. "That is why Congress could pass laws cutting off highway funds to states that didn’t raise their drinking age to 21. That’s why this whole bill [the Defense Appropriations bill] is full of limitations on contractors — what bonuses they can give and what kind of health care they can offer. The spending power is a broad power and my amendment is well within it."
Franken then described the case that prompted his amendment, that of former Halliburton employee Jamie Leigh Jones, who alleged in 2007 that she was raped by multiple co-workers while serving in Iraq in 2005.
Although Jones sought to take Halliburton and its former subsidiary KBR to court, her employment agreement required her to pursue her claim through arbitration instead. Arbitration is a process in which a designated third-party (often chosen by the company) reviews the case and makes a judgment outside of the court system. Under binding arbitration agreements, there is usually no way, or very limited ways, to appeal the decision.
Halliburton and KBR have disputed Jones’ claims.
"The constitution gives everybody the right to due process of law," Franken said. "And today, defense contractors are using fine print in their contracts do deny women like Jamie Leigh Jones their day in court… The victims of rape and discrimination deserve their day in court [and] Congress plainly has the constitutional power to make that happen."
(Via Feministe). Sen. Franken has a keen grasp of the powers granted to Congress under the spending clause, and the comparative ease of using it, rather than direct regulation or legislation, to encourage or discourage particular behavior.
As Stuart Smalley says, "It’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the entire world."