POLI­TIFACT

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Amy Sherman Poli­tiFact Na­tional poli­tifact@states­man.com

True: Poli­tiFact checks Allen West’s state­ment that Congress has voted to re­move the word “lu­natic” from fed­eral law.

The first week of De­cem­ber in Congress was dom­i­nated by news about the fis­cal cliff. So you will for­give us if we over­looked this other tid­bit tucked into the fi­nal weekly news­let­ter sent by U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.

“This week we voted in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to re­move the word ‘lu­natic’ from fed­eral law,” wrote West, who lost a close race to Demo­crat Pa­trick Murphy in Florida’s 18th District. “How­ever, that does not mean there isn’t plenty of lu­nacy go­ing on in the work­ings of the fed­eral government!”

We can’t fact-check the amount of lu­nacy in Washington, D.C., but we couldn’t re­sist look­ing into whether the House ac­tu­ally voted to re­move the word “lu­natic” from fed­eral law.

On Dec. 5, the House voted 398-1 in fa­vor of Se­nate Bill 2367, the 21st Cen­tury Lan­guage Act of 2012. The bill, which the Se­nate ap­proved by unan­i­mous con­sent in May, struck the word “lu­natic” from fed­eral law. It is await­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sig­na­ture.

The vote was part of an ef­fort to re­move out­dated and de­mean­ing lan­guage, and it was sup­ported by ad­vo­cates for peo­ple with men­tal health con­di­tions. The bill was spon­sored by Sen. Kent Con­rad, D-N.D., in re­sponse to a con­stituent’s re­quest.

“The term ‘lu­natic’ de­rives from the Latin word for ‘moon,’” said Rep. La­mar Smith, RSan An­to­nio, be­fore the House vote, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sional Record. “Be­fore the mod­ern era, it was used to de­scribe a per­son who suf­fers from men­tal disease be­cause of the be­lief that lu­nar cy­cles had an im­pact on brain func­tion. But as sci­ence and medicine have pro­gressed, so­ci­ety has come to un­der­stand men­tal ill­ness with more clar­ity.”

Rep. Robert Scott, DVa., com­pared it to a law in 2010 that re­placed parts of fed­eral law con­tain­ing the phrase “hav­ing men­tal re­tar­da­tion” with the phrase “hav­ing in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties.”

The bill deletes “lu­natic” from Sec­tion 1 of Ti­tle 1 of the U.S. Code which states “the words ‘in­sane’ and ‘in­sane per­son’ and ‘lu­natic’ shall in­clude ev­ery id­iot, lu­natic, in­sane per­son, and per­son non com­pos men­tis.”

Univer­sity of Mi­ami bank­ing law pro­fes­sor Stan­ley Lang­bein told us that, “By lu­natics, the law means what to­day we would re­fer to as per­sons ‘ad­ju­di­cated in­com­pe­tent’ — and the per­son’s af­fairs would prob­a­bly not be ad­min­is­tered by a com­mit­tee, but by what we would call a ‘guardian.’”

The lone “no” vote was cast by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, who is­sued a state­ment say­ing, “Not only should we not elim­i­nate the word ‘lu­natic’ from fed­eral law when the most press­ing is­sue of the day is sav­ing our coun­try from bank­ruptcy, we should use the word to de­scribe the peo­ple who want to con­tinue with busi­ness as usual in Washington.”

Our rul­ing: We rate this claim True.

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