A President, not a king


I was not originally planning to post on the big news story of the day, the Supreme Court decision in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, but I think a lot of the coverage I've seen as ignored some of the most significant ramifications.  Whatever happens with Guantanamo and military tribunals is not what is important. Rather, what this decision has to say about the very nature of presidential power and its role in our government is extremely important.  To quote Alan Wolfe:

“By striking a blow against President Bush?s claims of unchecked
presidential authority, the U. S. Supreme Court has enhanced the safety
of all Americans…Separation of powers, judicial review, and bipartisanship do not deny
the need for power. On the contrary, the great political theorists who
shaped our constitutional system understood that power checked is power
better exercised. The important thing is not just to make decisions but
to make good ones. And the more deliberative such decisions are, the
more likely they are to be good.”


Highly regarded legal scholar Cass Sunstein has this to say about the separation of powers:

But the reason for the immense importance
of the decision is neither technical nor difficult. That reason can be
found in the Court's insistence on clear congressional authorization
for the creation of military commissions–and in the broader
implication that even in the domain of national security, the president
must pay close attention to what Congress has and has not said. In a
pointed passage, the Court acknowledged that the president is
commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but added that Congress has
plenty of constitutional authority too–to declare war, to raise and
support armies, to define and punish offenses against the law of
nations, and to make rules for the government and regulation of the
land and naval forces. The Court squarely rejected the claim, pressed
by Justice Thomas and at times the Department of Justice, that the
Constitution gives primacy to the president in protecting the nation's
security.”

Walter Dellinger, former Solicitor General and Duke law professor declared this case to be:

the most important decision on presidential power and the rule of law ever. Ever.  The court has rejected the central constitutional claim of this
presidency: that no president is bound to comply with laws passed by
the United States Congress if those laws limit any exercise of an
astonishingly broad category they call “inherent Presidential power.”

The founders of this nation wanted a president subject to the rule of law who had to substantially share his powers with Congress.  Remeber, these people rebelled against Britain and King George III.  The Constitution is very much designed to give us a president, not a king.  Thanks to the Supreme Court, President Bush has failed in his attempts to assume the power of a King George.  The only downside, is that apparently four of the members of the Supreme Court are comfortable with a more monarchical presidency. 

What are the 10 Commandments anyway?

You gotta love Stephen Colbert.  In this clip from the Colbert Report (if you've never seen the show, just make sure you do not pronounce the “t” in report and thus show yourself to be tragically unhip), Colbert interviews a Georgia Congressman, Lynn Westmoreland, who is a strong advocate of posting the 10 Commandments in the Congress.  Watching Westmoreland try and actually name the Commandments (about 10 minutes in) is absolutely priceless.

Apparently, these are not even the “real” 10 Commandments

Flag burning public opinion

Before flag burning completely disappears from the political stage until the next time politicians try to pander by eviscerating the first amendment, I thought it would be worth taking a look at public opinion on the issue. Gallup just released a nice little analysis and finds that support for the amendment, though a majority, is a far from overwhelming at 56%.  Change the question wording a little, and mention that the amendment would, in fact, make illegal a form of political dissent, and support falls to a minority 45%.  Just one more demonstration of the power of question wording.  What is public opinion, really, when changing a few words can change support from legal abortion from 70% to 30%?

 It is also worth noting that support for this amendment has been undergoing a gradual decline.  Maybe more Americans are figuring out what this First Amendment things is all about.

Ann Coulter vs. Adolf Hitler

I was planning on just letting Ann Coulter go after my last posting on the matter, but I just came across this quiz which has quotes from both Coulter and Hitler and asks you to guess who made the statement.  I managed to get 11 of 14 write, but did confuse Coulter and Hitler with each other on 3 of them.  Give it a try and see how you do.  For the most part, Hitler's more distinctive speaking style helps, but not always.  There's an interesting analysis of the differences here

The century mark and fonts

So, I finally passed 100 hits in a day (and I was no more than half of them).  Hooray for me.  So, now that I have such a vast readership, I really need to clean up the look on entries that I paste quotations into.  It totally messes up the font whenever I do that and even though I think of myself as relatively computer savvy, I cannot quite figure out how to get it back to the default look.  I even tried pasting into a plain text reader before pasting into the blog editor, but no luck.  Anyway, if anybody reading this uses Wolfblogs and has a suggestion on how to fix this issue, I'd really appreciate it.

Duke Lacrosse case: where it stands

A number of people who have not followed the Duke Lacrosse case all that closely now that it is no longer in national headlines have recently asked me about what's going on.  I've been wishing I new of a nice summary to send them to.  Today's column by Ruth Marcus does a pretty good job of summarizing the way more than reasonable doubt.  This case is to reasonable doubt as Ruth's Chris Steakhouse is to Burger King.  The only thing in reasonable doubt now is the sanity of the prosecutor.  

Cooler heads prevail


By the margin of a single vote (66 of the 67 needed), the United States Senate failed to pass a flag burning amendment.  To quote a Republican Senator whom I am not usually particularly fond of, Mitch McConnell put it quite succinctly: “No act of speech is so obnoxious that it merits tampering with our First Amendment.”

To quote the Washington Post's paraphrase of a Republican Senator whom I almost never fond of, Orrin Hatch:

“The amendment's chief sponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), charged that “five unelected justices” had overturned legal prohibitions that were in force for decades and supported by majorities of the public, the state legislatures and the Congress.

“This amendment is one of the most important things we can do — to send a message to the United States Supreme Court that you cannot usurp the power” of Congress, Hatch said.”

So, according to Hatch, so long as a majority of the public and a majority of the states support something, it must be good.  By that reasoning, slavery, gross discrimination against every group except white males, and physical torture as criminal punishment were good things.

Apparently, Hatch never learned that a chief purpose of the Supreme Court is to prevent a “tyranny of the majority.”  We don't need the first amendment (and the Court) to protect popular views we need them to protect unpopular ones (i.e., flag burning).  Once you start making exceptions in the first amendment for particular unpopular views, you have started down a dangerous path. 

And to end in a note of tortured partisan fairness: I expect pandering to their conservative base and insufficient understanding of the first amendment from Republican Senators– it is the 14 Democratic Senators who voted for this amendment that I am particularly disappointed in.

UPDATE: Nice column on the matter in the Raleigh News & Observer today.  Best quote: “But burn an American flag because you're mad at your senator and have
chosen a dramatic way to make your point — the very essence of
political speech — and some politicians want to put you in jail. It's
not what you do, it's what you think that bothers them.”

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