Coconut Road: A Historical Perspective

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Transportation Weekly editor Jeff Davis takes a thorough look at the historical precedent for Rep. Don Young’s (R-AK) Coconut Road earmark language edit, discovering that the Supreme Court has looked at this issue before .

In the freewheeling 1890s, the court concluded in Field v. Clark that a bill signed into law is the law, despite any apparent discrepancies in the Congressional record:

Better, far better, that a provision should occasionally find its way into the statute through mistake, or even fraud, than that every act, state and national, should, at any and all times, be liable to be put in issue and impeached by the journals, loose papers of the legislature, and parol evidence. Such a state of uncertainty in the statute of laws of the land would lead to mischiefs absolutely intolerable…

Davis notes that since the Field decision, the court has grown more wary of official corruption, as reflected in McConnell v. FEC. This could mean the court would consider overturning Field in a case currently being considered for review, Public Citizen v. Clerk. It that decision did overturn Field, the entire 2005 highway bill could be found unconstitutional. That outcome seems unlikely and would certainly take a long time to reach.

In the meantime, Republicans on the House Transportation Committee have signaled that they may allow the Florida county involved to keep the money for the purpose originally described, though they do not have a concrete plan of how that would happen.