Posts Tagged ‘executive authority’

The Rule of Law

March 21, 2010

Michele Bachmann and a group of fellow Republican lawmakers just gave a press conference.  It was about pro-life Dem. Rep. Bart Stupak’s decision to drop his abortion-oriented opposition to the health care bill.

Fine.  There was nothing in the reform bill that allowed any federal money to pay for abortions, and there never was.  But whatever.

But Bachmann, et al., couched their chastisement of Stupak as a defense of the rule of law.  How much they love the rule of law.  How necessary it is to our system.  The effing rule of law.  Specifically, the rule of law as opposed the rule of a man.  From people who couldn’t cheer loudly enough at every radical expansion of executive authority at the expense of the rule of law over the past 8 years, and continue to vigorously support that Bush-Cheney line on extreme executive authority, and the inability of any law to ever limit it.

I don’t know whether this is coming from their stupidity or their dishonesty, but whichever it is, it truly is bottomless.  They could, if any reporter had bothered to ask, have stood there and taken both positions in a single sentence without batting an eye.

I haven’t posted here in a long time, and I’m finding I don’t have the words for how angry this makes me, but I couldn’t just sit here and take it.  So.

Abuse Is in the Eye of the Beholder, I Guess

October 21, 2009

Liz Cheney, Dick’s daughter (the one with political ambitions of her own), says White House criticism of Fox News is “censorship” and “abuse of power.”

Um, right.

First of all, as Al and DeJon probably have fresh on their minds right about now, criticism is not censorship.  If the White House wanted to censor Fox News, they’ve got very effective tools at their disposal for doing that (until it gets to court and they have to stop).  They aren’t using those tools.  They’re just saying publicly, “Hey, you know what?  Those guys are kind of a joke.”

Second, Liz Cheney supported and is still going to the mattresses to defend her father’s White House policies.  She has specifically defended her father’s policies of plucking American citizens off the street, in secret, with no charges, no attorney, no phone call, no day in court, and imprisoning them indefinitely on nothing but the president’s say-so; and of eavesdropping on American citizens without a warrant.

Criticizing somebody is an abuse of power, but chucking them in prison indefinitely without a trial isn’t?

Lady, you must be outside your mind.

Bush 44

June 9, 2009

This strikes me as a good, succinct statement of the crushing failure Pres. Obama has been on rule of law and executive authority issues.*  It does leave out, however, the fact that Obama has apparently also reserved the “right” to have detainees tortured if he feels the need.

So basically, as some advocacy groups who met with him recently informed him, Obama is not noticeably better than Bush.  Word on the street is that Obama bristled when they said that, and said it was “unhelpful” to put him in the same category with Bush.

Sometimes the truth hurts, Mr. President.  If you don’t like it, the thing to do is change your behavior, not deny reality; you’re too much like Bush, as it is.

If, upon taking office, you’ve discovered that a virtually unchecked executive branch really is a necessity, come out and say so.  Make your case to congress to have the relevant laws written, repealed, or amended, and the necessary treaties withdrawn from.  Make your case to the American people to have the Constitution amended.

That’s what the rule of law means in a democracy.  You, just like your predecessor, don’t get to just make stuff up.  You don’t get to ignore the rules and you don’t get to change them on your own say-so.  You have to make your case to us and get our approval.

[* The guy making the statement isn’t trying to point out Obama’s failure on these issues.  He’s trying to point out that Bush was right all along.  He gets the facts right but the conclusion wrong.]

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for the Rest of Us

May 22, 2009

That was Pres. Clinton’s compromise on the issue of gays in the military.  Liberal principles say sexual orientation should be irrelevant to military service.  The Pentagon said the idea of poofters in the barracks gave them the heebie-jeebies.  So Clinton’s compromise was to continue the ban on gays in the military, but with the added directive, “Let’s just not talk about it, mmkay?”

Pres. Obama is repeating that story when it comes to Gitmo, torture, and a good many other aspects of Bush/Cheney cowardice: let’s continue their constitutionally outrageous policies, but just not talk about it.

As far as I can tell, Cheney was right in his speech today that Obama, despite having signed an order forbidding torture, also reserved the “right” to order it if he deems the situation sufficiently dire.  When pressed on the question after Cheney’s speech, Obama spokespeople studiously avoided answering it.  So basically Obama’s policy is: very publicly say we forbid torture, very quietly call backsies.

Pres. Obama, of course, has no such “right” to reserve.  Nor did Pres. Bush.  Nor does any president.  The very idea is constitutionally abhorrent.

Pres. Obama can’t even forbid torture.  He has no authority on the topic, whatsoever.  American law has pronounced on the subject.  That’s it.  End of story.  All any president can do is faithfully execute that law.

Unfortunately, having had one president both vociferously claim a right to torture, and vigorously exercise it, and having had multiple congresses lay down and show their belly in response, and now a second president, of the other party, claim exactly the same right, however quietly, that’s no longer true, because the constitutional restraints on the executive have been removed.

That’s how our system works.  We like to think the mere fact that there is a piece of paper called “The Constitution” means all that stuff in it is actually guaranteed.  It isn’t.  No less a constitutional scholar than James Madison knew this perfectly well and said so.  Rights and limits are guaranteed only so long and so far as they are actually observed, every single day and by every generation. The day a right or limit stops being actually observed is the day it ceases to exist, constitution or no constitution.

So when the constitutional limits on the executive are flouted and nobody does anything about it, those provisions of the constitution cease to exist.  Ben Franklin, asked by a Philadelphian what the convention had produced, famously answered, “A republic, if we can keep it.”

We can’t.  We didn’t.

Thanks first to Pres. Bush (and Cheney), and now to Pres. Obama, the president of the United States can snatch any person, including American citizens, off the streets, anywhere, anytime, imprison them indefinitely, in secret and without recourse, and torture them, and nobody can do a damn thing about it.

Such presidential behavior is no longer unconstitutional.  Our two major parties and all 3 branches of government have agreed to this arrangement.  Those provisions of the constitution that limited the power of the executive have been emended by mutual consent.  They’re vestigial organs.  Dead letters.  For you law students in the audience, dicta.

So if your name ever turns up on the wrong list by mistake, God help you.  Nobody else can.

The moment any president ever suspects you of something dangerous, you cease to have legal rights.  At all.  He or she can do anything s/he wants to you, short of killing you (for now, at least).  There are no limits on his or her power over you.  None.  You get no phone call, no presumption of innocence, and no lawyer, who would be superfluous, anyway, since you’ll never see the inside of any courtroom or get to present your side of the story to a jury of your peers or anybody else.  You’ll simply go away.  Silently.  Secretly.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying Pres. Obama or the president after him or the president after that is going to start disappearing people en masse.  I’m saying — presidents Bush and Obama are saying, the congress, and, with some notable exceptions, the courts are saying — any president could disappear as many people as s/he sees fit.  As the Framers understood, once such power exists, it’s just a matter of time before it is exercised; that’s why they did not give anybody that kind of power.

Besides, if you’re one of the unlucky ones who does get disappeared, the fact that it’s not happening en masse is going to be cold comfort.

But let’s not talk about it.  There.  You feel better already, right?

Update (5/22/09): TPM picks up on the same Obama dodge.

Howard Johnson is right about Gabby Johnson being right!

May 17, 2009

Tom Ricks says the Army War College journal, reviewing Jane Mayer’s book (Just now? Dude, it’s been out for over a year.), comes to the conclusion that Vice President Cheney panicked in the aftermath of 9/11.  Well, they use the passive  “unnerved” rather than the active “panicked,” but still.

Get Irony Much?

March 1, 2009

Justice Antonin Scalia has been a thoroughgoing advocate for the Bush-Cheney theory of absolute executive authority when it comes to the treatment of detainees in the “War on Terror.”  He even got into a bit of hot water for expressing his views in a public forum when cases on the subject were pending before the Supreme Court.

On Thursday, in a blistering dissent from a court decision not to review a public corruption case, Scalia said: “Bad men, like good men, are entitled to be tried and sentenced in accordance with law.”

Ummm . . . hello?  Presumably, Scalia believes President Bush, in his absolute authority over his detainees, declared them not to be “men.”

Also, according to a WaPo poll, GOP voters have suddenly discovered they’re worried about deficits: “74 percent of Republicans in the new poll expressed grave worry about the deficit, 29 points higher than in December when George W. Bush held the reins.”

h/t Scott Horton