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May 2 / Jonathan

W Power

As troublesome as many of the specific initiatives and policies of the Bush administration are, more troublesome yet is its largely unprecedented tendency to arrogate power to itself. 9/11, GWOT, images of mushroom clouds, and now the “Long War” provide the cover.

On that subject, we have a report from the libertarian Cato Institute, and an article by the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage.

Savage first:

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.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush’s assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ”to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ”execute” a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Where Savage focuses on an executive-branch power grab (with implications for more than the other two branches, of course), Cato sees arrogation of power by the government generally. Their executive summary:

In recent judicial confirmation battles, President Bush has repeatedly—and correctly—stressed fidelity to the Constitution as the key qualification for service as a judge. It is also the key qualification for service as the nation’s chief executive. On January 20, 2005, for the second time, Mr. Bush took the presidential oath of office set out in the Constitution, swearing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” With five years of the Bush administration behind us, we have more than enough evidence to make an assessment about the president’s commitment to our fundamental legal charter

Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes

  • a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech—and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;
  • a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;
  • a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as “enemy combatants,” strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror— in other words, perhaps forever;
  • and a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.

President Bush’s constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers.

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