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The vote was part of an effort to remove outdated and demeaning language, and it was supported by advocates for people with mental health conditions.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.