Saturday, October 14, 2006

Amendment Suggestion 1: Checks and Balances

Here's the first amendment idea I want to toss out there:

  1. The President of the United States is NOT above the law.
  2. The checks and balances established in the Constitution of the United States shall be upheld at ALL TIMES.
The George W. Bush administration has, in its last 6 years of operation, gone out of its way to assume, take, and seize political power and authority away from not only the two other branches of government but also from the states. This is a product of the last 40 years of Republican planning: ever since the era of Nixon, hell even before, the GOP had its factions obsessed with Authoritarianism, of having power reside in a powerful unyielding Chief Executive who would never have to answer to the whims of a crowded noisy Congress or an intrusive, 'activist' Court. Think back to what Nixon said to David Frost in the post-Watergate interview he gave in which he expressed the theory: "If the President does it, it's not illegal." See, if a Senator does it, it's illegal. If a soldier does it, it's illegal. If an average citizen does it, it's illegal. But if the President does it, for him and him alone, it's legal.
Under that theory, the President can suspend habeus corpus, not Congress, and the Courts will have nothing to say about it because without habeus there's nothing they CAN say. The President can ignore any treaty he feels like, without the Senate raising a stink. The President can ignore any law Congress passes without even worrying about the Constitutional requirement of a Veto, simply by signing a statement on how he interprets the law as he sees fit. The President can knock over gas stations if he felt like it, under this idea of the President being Above The Law.
This theory is best found under the title of Unitary Executive Theory: that the President is vested by Article II of the Constitution to 'Take care' that the laws are faithfully executed. But if you read that wiki article I linked to, you will see that at nearly every time the President used that theory to expand powers, the Courts struck it down or limited that administration's reach. In the few times that the Courts failed to enforce their ruling, such as when Andrew Jackson ignored the Supreme Court's ruling that he could not force Indians out of their tribal lands, the results were inhumane and ended up being a dark stain in our nation's history.
If you do look at the history of when the President overreached his authority - Jefferson's refusal to seat Adams' midnight judges that led to the Marbury v. Madison; Andrew Jackson's explusion of the Cherokee from Georgia that led to decades of wrongs committed against the Native Americans; Lincoln's suspension of Habeus Corpus that led to Ex Parte Milligan; FDR's internment of Japanese Americans that led to reparation payments after the war; Truman's strike-breaking effort that led to the Youngstown decision; Nixon's domestic spying abuses - there is something wrong with this whole idea of a super-powerful Executive. And as you see there's been a pattern of abuse by these previous administrations, all overshadowed by the horrific excesses of the current administration, that shows something, ANYTHING, needs to be spelled out in black-and-white.
This amendment is meant to spell it out: The President has his limits, and it's the law. Anything defined as illegal by Congress, he can't do, period. Anything ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, he can't do, period. This is a reminder that power is shared in this government, that there is a series of checks and balances, that the President cannot make the law or define the law, he just enforces it and does his job and does it right.
The second part of this amendment idea is that the laws are to be upheld at all times under all circumstances. John Yoo, George W. Bush's legal defender on authoritarianism, argues that during wartime power shifts to the Executive branch. The problem is that becomes an excuse to use the powers as he sees fit, even if they don't relate to the War Effort. And legal history has proved Yoo wrong: Lincoln's suspension of Habeus during the Civil War was ruled Unconstitutional; Truman's strike-break efforts were during the Korean War, again was ruled Unconstitutional. The Courts, interpreting the Constitution as is their authority to do so, has determined that the President cannot claim wartime as an excuse to override the laws of the land. The second part of my amendment spells that out clearly, so there will be no confusion or deception regarding this: THE PRESIDENT IS NOT SHOULD NOT WILL NOT BE ABOVE THE LAW. EVER.
This isn't the best legal argument anyone can make: but it's the right argument to speak for.

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