The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted on Thursday to hold former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress, one day after the House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges against Lerner for her role in investigating tea party nonprofit organizations.
Many observers have speculated that Holder's department will ignore that letter, but attorney Kendall Coffey, founding member of the Coffey Burlington law firm in Miami, says it will be difficult for the Justice Department not to follow the committee's recommendation.
"A criminal referral by a body of Congress is going to get very serious attention. I mean no matter what party, what branch of government, something like that simply can't get ignored," Coffey told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.
"So it'll be looked at very, very seriously and if they decide not to do anything in the end, they'll need to be in a position to really justify that decision, which generally prosecutors don't have to do."
Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court declined to hear an early challenge to the National Security Agency's phone surveillance program and an appeal of a New Mexico photographer who claimed free-speech rights in refusing to photograph a same-sex union.
The court's refusal to hear those two cases doesn't mean it doesn't think they present serious issues, Coffey said.
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In the New Mexico case, a wedding photographer was charged with violating the state's anti-discrimination law that requires businesses to serve customers regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, according to the Los Angeles Times
Before the high court's refusal to hear the case, the photographer's appeal was rejected by the New Mexico Supreme Court.
"The Supreme Court is very, very cautious about which cases it hears. It doesn't believe it has to right every injustice," Coffey said. "But for sure, their decision not to hear something doesn't mean they think the lower court decision was a good idea. In this case, it's a decision that only applies strictly speaking in New Mexico. Now I don't think that means that they're done with the issue. The issue could come back in another time and a different set of facts."
In the NSA case, the court rejected an appeal from a lower court ruling to hear the case before it worked its way through the usual appeals process.
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