Article I, section 9, clause 3 of the United States Constitution: No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.
From U.S. Constitution Online:
attainder n. The loss of all civil rights by a person sentenced for a serious crime. [< OFr. attaindre, to convict] Source: AHD
In the context of the Constitution, a Bill of Attainder is meant to mean a bill that has a negative effect on a single person or group (for example, a fine or term of imprisonment). Originally, a Bill of Attainder sentenced an individual to death, though this detail is no longer required to have an enactment be ruled a Bill of Attainder.
Now consider this. The United States House of Representatives today passed legislation (HB 1586) to levy a 90% tax on bonuses paid to employees at American International Group, Inc. (AIG). and other companies receiving over $5 billion in taxpayer funds.
They voted to do this despite the fact that they passed the original legislation authorizing use of taxpayer funds to help shore up struggling financial institutions.
Despite the fact that AIG was awarded the money with no strings attached, simply as an influx of funds desperately needed to continue business operations.
Despite the fact that AIG was contractually obligated to award the bonuses.
Despite the fact that honoring contracts is one component of continuing business operations.
Despite the fact that the original legislation contained language authorizing the payment of contractually mandated bonuses.
Despite the fact that no evidence has been presented indicating that the recipients of the bonuses have engaged in any wrongdoing.
I’m certainly no legal scholar; hey, I’m just a high school graduate (albeit from back in the day when a high school diploma actually meant something), but if HB 1586 does not meet the definition of a Bill of Attainder outright, it seems as though it’s walking a mighty fine line.