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Saturday, September 30

Long Live King George

Something billydoom asked in one of the threads below got me to musing how close the country is to living an imperial presidency. We may already be there; alternatively, the final confrontation may be just around the corner. Either way, there is no question that if we keep to the current path we are heading for a system of government in which King George holds fully all reins of the government.

A brief review of how the balance of power is supposed to work: The Congress passes the laws; the Executive implements the laws; the Courts decide whether the laws comport with the "supreme law of the land", a/k/a the Constitution. The basis for the courts' authority to be the final arbiter of whether a law passes Constitutional muster stems from a case called Marbury v. Madison in the young days of the Republic. The case has a complicated procedural history that I won't bore you with, but the upshot was that Justice Marshall, writing for the Supreme Court as the first Chief Justice, stated that the Congress had no authority to pass any law that trifled with the jurisidiction of the Supreme Court, because the basis for the Supreme Court's jurisdiction was set forth in the Constitution itself, and ever is the Constitution the "supreme law of the land." Therefore, when the Congress passes a law, it is the purview of the courts to determine whether such law conflicts in some respect with the Constitution. If the law (or an act of the Chief Executive) is repugnant to the Constitution, it cannot stand. That is the system under which the Republic has been operating for the past 220+ years. In my humble opinion, it's worked pretty well.

Now, what has happened over the past six years has been no less than a fundamental reworking of the balance of governmental power, the beloved "checks and balances" we learned about in our civics classes in middle school. We know that King George has already decided that he doesn't have to, as his oath of office states, "faithfully execute the laws of the United States." Over the past months, we have heard repeatedly how King George signs bills passed by Congress into law, while at the same time secretly signing statements that arrogates to himself the authority NOT to implement any law that, in his sole opinion, are an unconstitutional infringement on his authoririty as Chief Executive. Wait, you might say, it is the responsibility of the courts to determine whether Congress has gone too far; it is up to the courts to say to Congress that a law they have passed is an impermissible infringement upon the authority of the Executive branch of the goverment. And of course you would be exactly correct. Yet this is, undisputably, exactly what King George has done. Thus, he already holds the reins of two of the three branches of the government.

But what to do about those pesky courts? The final confrontation, I believe, is just around the corner, if we're not there already. It will come the day that the Supreme Court rules against King George on one of his criminal acts, whether it be tapping the phones of American citizens without a warrant, or extraordinary rendition, or detaining and torturing anyone he, in his sole opinion, believes is dangerous. On that day, he will stand before the cameras and declare that he doesn't care what the Supreme Court says, that his authority as President in a time of war is absolute and the courts cannot do anything about it, that the courts do not have the power to enforce their rulings. Isn't that really what Alberto Gonzales is threatening when he "warns" the courts not to cross King George on the Torturers R Us Act? Isn't he really saying, "look you judges, you better stay in line, we will not brook interference with our master plan"? The President is, after all, the Commander in Chief of the military. Suppose King George orders the military to take the Justices of the Supreme Court (or maybe just a few of them, like Justices Ginsberg, Breyer and Stevens) into custody because they, in his opinion, are dangerous (and indeed these particular Justices are dangerous to his view of how power is "shared" in our government). What's to stop him? Hasn't he already set a precedent that he can detain indefinitely any person he, in his sole opinion, deems dangerous. Without charges, without lawyers, without access to courts (which will no longer exist)?

King George will soon hold in his hands the reins of all three branches of our government; he will be the Supreme Law of the Land; he will be our Maximum Leader; he will be our Imperial President; he will be our dictator.

That day is coming, my lovelies, it is coming.

Update: Okay, so I have been a little out of touch this past week with work and what not, so this is just finally sinking in. The day I alluded to above is not coming; it is here. We have been quite focused on this whole question of torture, and I think maybe we have missed the largest issue here (or maybe just I have missed the largest issue). The Detainee Act, or whatever the hell they are calling it, strips the courts of the authority to review decisions rendered by King George with respect to detainees. Says the New York Times: "The bill, which cleared a final procedural hurdle in the House on Friday and is likely to be signed into law next week by Mr. Bush, does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation." So there you have it, the final check on untrammeled executive authority purportedly has been removed. So what will happen if the courts determine that the Congress does not have the authority to srip them of their jurisdiction and hears challenges to the new law anyway?

First, constitutional crisis; then, civil war.

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