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Monday, June 26, 2006

Question for Conservatives: Does the Constitution Matter? Even a Little?

According to this Boston Globe article (link found at this site put together by Virginia attorney Joyce A. Green and referenced at Balkinization), Senator Arlen Specter (R-promises a lot and typically delivers little unless it is important to WH and religious radicals) has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow on Presidential signing statements.

Others have written lots about this, so I won't belabor the details (see the detailed list of commentary at Green's site; I found the Gary Hart op-ed and Jack Balkin links particularly informative).

But here's the basic issue:
  1. The US Constitution says that Congress enacts legislation.
  2. The US Constitution also says that the President must either (a) sign, or (b) veto said legislation.
There isn't some third category -- yet President Bush has behaved as if there is one. Bush has made a practice of signing legislation while, in the process, issuing signing statements that declare his intention not to enforce specific provisions of Congress's enactment (as I understand it, Presidential signing statements have been around at least since the Reagan years, when they were championed by now-Justice Samuel Alito, among others). Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe has written that
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

This conduct raises two issues. The second is whether the President's interpretation of the Constitution is correct in these specific cases. As applied to the relevant issues, that question is obviously of great importance.

But it pales by comparison to the first issue, which goes to the heart of the structure of the US government. Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution says that the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed". It does not say that President shall pick and choose which laws to execute. So what should the President do when confronted with a statute that he feels is unconstitutional? Let's be quaint and consult the Constitution itself, which in Article II, Section 1 states that
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
It doesn't take much to realize, therefore, that if the President feels that a statute violates the Constitution, then he has not just the right but also the duty to veto that statute (for instance, suppose some future President were to lack the courage of the current one's convictions---surely the President would not want unconstitutional laws on the books when that pansy takes office).

The choice to sign an unconstitutional statute and then disregard its contents is simply not one that has any legitimate basis. Every time President Bush self-consciously refuses to enforce a law that he has signed, he defies his oath and his responsibility to the American people. (Cases when a different President signs a law likely are more complicated.)

There's been much talk on the left about impeaching Bush. While most of this talk is idle speculation, I'll take the liberty of taking it seriously for a moment. Should the President be impeached for misleading the nation into war? Well, maybe -- but then a lot of the people impeaching and judging him ought to first resign, since many were accomplices (given how little attention most paid to the details of the NIE before the war, the best that could be said might be that they were accessories).

Whatever you think about the war---even if you assume the worst about the President's duplicity leading up to it and willful incompetence in conducting it---it's much less of an affront to the President's obligations than is a policy of signing laws while announcing that you plan to disregard them and then actually disregarding them.

But don't just take my word for it. Conservative, former Reagan-administration lawyer Bruce Fein has been vocal on this issue. And he has a good idea:
Fein said he plans to tell the committee that it should include in all legislation a provision that cuts off funds for everything in the bill if a president uses a signing statement to exempt himself from following some part of the bill.
Of course, the President might simply disregard that provision as well -- why respect Congress's funding language if you disregard other facets of a law? But at least maybe it would be more difficult for Congress to duck its own Constitutional responsibility to hold the President accountability.

Which brings me to the views of another conservative. Back in September 2005, Peter wrote in a comment that
One could argue that one of the best rationales for the chief executive having the veto power is that he/she is charged with enforcing the law and if he/she believes it is unconstitutional, then he/she should veto it.

And to anticipate a possible rejoinder, no, the courts are not solely responsible for determining the constitutionality of a law. At least when considering the federal government, it is often said that each branch has a duty to ensure that laws are constitutional. Other branches shouldn't abdicate that responsibility simply because other branches also have that responsibility.
For precisely these reasons (which, incidentally, convinced me that I was wrong in the underlying post; see the update therein), the President has a duty to veto laws he really thinks are unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Congress has a duty to put a stop to the President's deliberate and publicly stated refusal to uphold his oath of office.

Perhaps I am naive. But I honestly do not understand how self-described conservatives can support a President whose stance toward the Constitution and the Legislative branch---which conservatives like to remind us is so much closer to the people than either the Executive or the Judiciary---is so cavalierly dismissive. If conservatives mean a word of their endless declarations and dissertations regarding the text and meaning of the Constitution, then surely they cannot abide this President's determination to ignore it.

It's put-up-or-shut-up time for conservatives, both in Congress and elsewhere: Do they stand for any principles at all? Or do they simply support whatever George W. Bush declares the President can do?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

George W Sings

Friday, June 16, 2006

Even "Lovelier"?

I have a general policy of ignoring nuts. That's why I haven't previously posted about Ann Coulter, about whom nothing but her name need generally be said to convey the lunacy.

That said, some people seem to find it worth discussing when leftwing nuts in other countries promote assassination of elected leaders.

Perhaps such people don't know about Ann Coulter's apparent suggestion that John Murtha is fit to be murdered by his own troops.

I can't help but wonder: Does it bother such people when rightwing nuts say such things? Do such people find it at all dismaying that mainstream media outlets give Coulter a platform to slander liberals? Or do such people make a stink only on those occasions when such people are overwhelmed by the horrors of supposed liberal bias?

I'm looking forward to hearing what such people think about Coulter's murderous suggestions and the continuing willingness of the supposedly liberal media to let her promote her books and her slander, lies and plagiarism.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rove Gets Off (and not just by slandering opponents)

So it appears that Karl Rove has been told that he won't be indicted (at lesat, that's what his lawyer has told the press---Fitzgerald's office has declined comment).

Here are some quick thoughts:
  • So much for the various GOP attacks on Fitz for supposedly being a partisan attack dog.

  • Obviously I don't know what Fitz knows. But from the stuff that has leaked out, there seems to be lots of reason to think that Rove did indeed lie to the grand jury. This fact raises the possibility that the apparent decision not to prosecute on obstruction or perjury charges is less absolution than it is concern on Fitz's part about whether Rove could be successfully prosecuted. So far I've seen nothing in Fitz's conduct but evidence that he is a stand-up guy who has followed his understanding of the law---which includes not charging when you don't think you can convict---and conducted himself with the utmost of decency. It's too bad his approach isn't more common in DOJ HQ. Kudos to Fitz for doing his job, and nothing more.

  • Rove is every bit the scoundrel folks like me have been saying he is. He lied to the American people about his role in blowing Valerie Wilson's cover. Hell, he actually was willing to blow her cover (so much for the supposed national security focus of this administration). Moreover, indictment or no, Rove was hardly eager to have the truth out, either to the GJ or to the American public.

  • George W. Bush's dishonesty and ducking of responsibility on this issue continues unabated---we all know he vowed that anyone involved in the Plame-Wilson leak would "no longer be in this administration". Scooter Libby would still be if not for his indictment, and Karl Rove still is. Dick Cheney still is, too. The dishonor and lack of dignity of this president and his thuggish henchmen continues, shaming us all.
In the meantime, it seems that Rove lawyer Robert Luskin may need someone else to get off. Here's one possible future client

Update: One more thing about which I've been wondering since Luskin started talking about this yesterday (I think). Have Rove's people released the letter from Fitz that they say they've received? Here's what VandeHei's WaPo story says (emphasis mine):
Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald told Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, in a short letter delivered Monday afternoon that he "does not anticipate seeking charges" against Rove in the case, Luskin said.
I haven't exactly scoured the wires on this issue, but I don't think any of the few things I have read has said that anyone (other than possibly Luskin) has seen this letter. If the letter exists , as I assume that it does even given the source of its reported existence, and if it's totally exonerative, why not release the whole thing? I see now that this point has also been made by Greg Sargent (HT TPMmuckracker.com), who managed to get Rove spokesman Mark Corallo on the record ducking exactly this question:

Corallo said this: "There were no conditions attendant to the prosecutor's actions. There never has been any discussion about cooperation or conditions or anything of the sort. This strictly reflects the prosecutor coming to the correct conclusion that Rove has told the truth from day one. He believed him."

I pointed out to Corallo that there's been plenty of speculation that Fitzgerald may have opted against charges not because he believed Rove, but because he didn't think he could prove any wrongdoing that may have occurred. When I asked Corallo if his above assertions should be taken to mean that the Rove camp had any sign that Fitzgerald hadn't merely opted against charges because he didn't think he could prove them, Corallo didn't answer directly. He said: "I think at that point you're splitting hairs."

[JG note: At this point I feel compelled to point out that Corallo was John Ashcroft's spokesman at DOJ in Ashcroft's salad days as AG of the USA (cue Spinal Tap music....). Corallo surely knows that the distinction between believing in innocence and not believing in the existence of proof of guilt is a substantive rather than hair-splitting one.]

Our conversation was brief, but I got a bit more out of Corallo. When I asked Corallo why the Rove camp wouldn't release Fitzgerald's notification that he wouldn't pursue charges, since that would clear up any doubts, he said, "We had an agreement with the prosecutor's office from the day this began that we wouldn't disclose direct communications or any documents between his office and ours."

But wouldn't today's announcement constitute a disclosure of such "direct communications"? To that question, Corallo replied that Fitzgerald had given them the go-ahead to release a statement. "He said he had no problem with it," Corallo said. Interestingly, he declined to answer whether Fitzgerald had signed off on the Rove camp's final statement.

You know, ongoing investigation, that sort of thing.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Barnes Hearts Bushies

Fred Barnes, fillatist extraordinaire, has turned his velvet tongue on another Bush brother. Rigorous reporter that he is, Barnes discovers that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is tops, Captain Dreamy, Mr. ``Governor in Chief.''

`` Why is Jeb Bush the best? It's very simple. His record is the best. No other governor, Republican or Democrat, comes close,'' Barnes declares, as he wrings out his spooge-rag.

The beginning of another Bush presidential candidacy? Now eternal recurrence is one thing, but this is getting friggin' ridiculous.