Tuesday, September 04, 2012
I have a short piece in the new issue of Commonweal, called "Executive Overreach." It was solicited as part of a "what's important to think about, as the election approaches" series that the magazine -- a liberal-Catholic-(or Catholic-liberal)-leaning journal of opinion -- is running. Here's a bit:
. . . Constitutionalism is about more than our particular charter’s text, the Supreme Court’s various decisions, or pieties about shared values and fundamental rights. It is an attachment to the enterprise of protecting human freedom and promoting the common good by structuring, separating, and limiting power in entrenched and enforceable ways. It is a mechanism for conferring power and authorizing action, a vehicle for governing and getting things done, but it’s also an embrace of constraints, processes, and forms, and a willingness to accept delays, inefficiencies, and frustrations as unavoidable costs, perhaps even benefits. In constitutional
government, how and by whom things are done is at least as important as what is
done and when, or how quickly. And this is why it is troubling, rather than
inspiring, to hear the president keep saying, “We can’t wait.”
This is not a partisan concern. Both parties have been guilty of overreach . . . .
This is not a Tea Party point, even if the Tea Party sometimes makes it. It is certainly not an endorsement of the constitutional provisions that once entrenched slavery or a denial that some others are anachronistic. Nor is it a defense of the various congressionally created, non-constitutional rules that sometimes make a mockery of the idea of structured deliberation by setting up a maze of holdouts, vetoes, and hostage taking.
Electoral majorities will sometimes reward those whose proclaimed or perceived energy and vision are too big for the rules and who promise to ignore or abolish procedures that—especially during times of deep political divisions—seem to deliver only delay and dead ends. And yet, as Chief Justice Warren Burger observed almost thirty years ago, “With all the obvious flaws of delay, untidiness, and potential for abuse, we have not yet found a better way to preserve freedom than by making the exercise of power subject to the carefully crafted restraints spelled out in the Constitution.” Those who designed the Constitution understood that political liberties are best served through competition and cooperation among plural authorities and jurisdictions, and through mechanisms that check, diffuse, and divide power. . . .
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