“It gives me complete control of this chamber and this facility,” Pearce said.
That constitutional provision has always been interpreted to give the speaker of the House and the Senate president wide latitude in running their chambers, said Greg Jernigan, the Senate’s general counsel.
In addition, Senate rules, whose provisions were derived from the Constitution, also give the president the authority to oversee security, Jernigan said.
“The suggestion that the president of the Senate has no authority to remove people that violate the rules of decorum and order in the Senate is clearly false,” he said, adding that includes the authority to prevent people from coming back for some reasonable period.
Actually, Senate rules also spell out the need for order during committee hearings. The rules require that all hearings be open to the public — “so long as the proper decorum is maintained.”
But it’s not the president’s authority to evict unruly people from a committee hearing that is causing heartburn among Democrats and other critics.
No one is also questioning Pearce’s authority to maintain order in the chamber.
What critics argue is that the ban is disproportionately heavy-handed. In addition, some insist he has no power to ban anyone at all, and he’s reading the Constitution and Senate rules to suit his decision.
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said neither the state Constitution nor Senate rules grant Pearce that authority.
“He’s trying to interpret it that way, but it doesn’t say that,” Gallardo said, referring to Article 4, Part 2 Section 8 of the state Constitution. “It’s totally overreaching.”
His critics dispute Pearce’s characterization that the disruptions during a February committee hearing on immigration bills constituted a dangerous situation — especially because the loud applause, boos and cheers came from a different room from where the actual hearing was taking place.
Some also complained that Salvador Reza, a well-known immigration activist who was arrested based on Pearce’s ban, was singled out. That is, he wasn’t the only person applauding or booing loudly on
Feb. 22, when the Senate Appropriations Committee heard a slew of immigration measures, including a proposal that ultimately aims to get the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the automatic American citizenship of children born in the United States to illegal immigrants.
Reza, along with a colleague, Anayanse Garza, was arrested on Feb. 24, when he entered and refused to leave the Senate building.
A legal question remaining is how long a president may ban someone from the Senate.
Jernigan, the Republicans’ legal counsel, acknowledged that there are no rules or statute prescribing a timeframe, but he surmised that the courts would look at what is reasonable and consider what has transpired in the state, including the Tucson shootings, and likely say the Legislature’s presiding officers have wide latitude in securing their chambers.
Pearce has said he will consider letting the two back in if they ask him to.
In the last few days, Democrats pressed Pearce about the ban and asked who else is not allowed to set foot in the chamber.
“I believe it is inappropriate and perhaps unlawful to permanently deny Arizona citizens access to their state Capitol due to such an incident,” Senate Minority Leader David Schapira said.