Later On

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Scale back Executive power?

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Mike Lillis has a good article in the Washington Independent on whether the new Congress will scale back the Executive powergrab that Cheney’s office accomplished. The article begins:

Pointing to the Bush years as a dark age in the annals of abusive executive might, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) called Tuesday for the next president to denounce the last decade’s White House power grab and return the notion of legal accountability to Pennsylvania Ave.

The push is just the latest in a series of moves by congressional Democrats to rein in the executive branch, whose go-it-alone approach has sparked myriad controversies in the past eight years. Feingold’s effort is unique in that, instead of targeting the Bush administration directly, he hopes to make its tactics an example — warning policy-makers of the dangers of unilateral White House decision-making.

Applying the lessons, however, might not be as easy as the Wisconsin Democrat hopes. The separation-of-powers debate — ignited during the Nixon administration nearly four decades ago — resurfaced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when Congress, in effect, enabled the White House to conduct its global war on terror however it pleased. That absence of congressional — and, at times, even judicial — oversight allowed the Bush administration to skirt federal and international laws in ways that many critics, including Feingold, have deemed unprecedented.

Seven years later, the pendulum is swinging back ever-so-slowly. But Feingold, the chairman the Senate Judiciary Constitution Subcommittee, who convened a hearing on executive power Tuesday, hopes to expedite that process by convincing the next president that the re-empowerment of Congress is vital for the national health.

“One of the most important things that the next president must do, whoever he may be, is take immediate and concrete steps to restore the rule of law in this country,” Feingold said. “He must make sure that the excesses of this administration don’t become so ingrained in our system that they change the very notion of what the law is.”

There have been plenty of episodes to fuel Feingold’s concerns. As part of its dubious record, the Bush administration has tortured war-on-terror detainees, suspended the right of habeas corpus, spied on U.S. residents without court orders, refused congressional requests for information, claimed to have lost years worth of official White House emails, used signing statements as a way to circumvent laws, screened Justice Dept. applicants based on ideology — and the list goes on.

Critics, including a long list of prominent historians and constitutional scholars, contend that the administration agenda marks nothing less than a breach of democracy.

“The result has been a distortion of the Constitution, an evisceration of the rights and liberties of individuals, and a perversion of American values,” said Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., the former council for the Church Committee and a senior attorney with New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, who testified before Feingold’s subcommittee Tuesday.

Neither the office of Sen. John McCain nor that of Sen. Barack Obama returned requests for comment. Earlier this year, however, both candidates supported a controversial bill expanding the White House powers for warrantless wiretapping of Americans.

Harold Hongju Koh, a professor of international law at Yale University, pointed out the diplomatic troubles stemming from the Bush administration policy. The very existence of the Pentagon’s detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, for example, has allowed dictators and tyrants across the globe to justify their own violations of international law, he said.

“The last seven years have been devastating,” Koh said.

Congress bears some blame for the White House power grab, certain experts argue. Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma who is now a lecturer at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, accused Congress of failing in its responsibility to stand up to an abusive administration.

“The current greatest threat to our system of separated powers and the protections it affords stems not just from executive overreaching,” Edwards said, “but also from the acquiescence of Congress.” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2008 at 8:53 am

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