Constitutional scholars told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that Congress would be invading the powers of the judiciary and the executive if it passed legislation specifically restoring Lt. Col. Oliver North's military pension.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has backed the bill which would give North his pension, said during the session that North earned his Marine retirement during 20 years of distinguished and heroic service to his country. Hatch added that "no federal statute exists saying a military pension is to be forfeited upon conviction of any crime for which North has been found guilty."North was convicted last summer of shredding documents, under a section of the U.S. code that says that anyone so convicted "shall be prohibited from holding any office under the United States." The Navy's General Counsel has recommended that North get his pension, holding that in retirement he would not hold an office.
North's pension was denied after the General Accounting Office ruled that a retired regular officer does continue to hold office and receive their pensions for reduced pay in return for reduced responsibilities and obligations. Under that finding, the Navy has withheld North's pay.
Peter Shane, professor of law from the University of Iowa, told the Committee that in his opinion Congress would be passing a Constitutionally-barred bill of attainder, though one in North's favor, to give him back the pension.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del, chairman of the Committee, said at the end of the session that he expects Congress to act on the question.