1/16/2006

A Power Outage on Capitol Hill - Newsweek National News - MSNBC.com

We are in danger of scrapping our checks and balances—not just for a few years (as was done during the Civil War), but for good.
by Jonathan Alter

"Snoopgate" is already creating new fissures on the right. The NSA story is an acid test of whether one is a traditional Barry Goldwater conservative, who believes in limited government, or a modern Richard Nixon conservative, who believes in authority. Alito is in the latter category. His judicial opinions suggest a deference to executive power, and he once pioneered presidential "signing statements" that are meant to help judges come down on the president's side. Just recently, Bush attached such a statement to John McCain's bill banning torture in which the president reserved the right to ignore the law if he wants to...

Alito embodies the inherent contradiction of the conservative movement. The nominee is an "originalist," which means, as he said last week, that "we should look to the meaning that someone would have taken from the text of the Constitution at the time of its adoption." But at that time, the 18th century, the Founders could not have been clearer about the role of Congress in wartime. As James Madison put it, "In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war and peace to the legislative and not to the executive branch."

Congress, for its part, is in no shape to assert its constitutional prerogatives. Gabby senators came across poorly in the Alito hearings. And the House side looks like someone just lifted a rock on a colony of slithering worms. The race to succeed Rep. Tom DeLay as majority leader, for instance, is currently between "Tobacco John" Boehner, who once passed out checks from the tobacco industry on the House floor, and "Tobacco Roy" Blunt, who inserted an amendment to favor cigarette makers in, of all things, the homeland-security bill. Fortunately, Sen. Arlen Specter will hold hearings in early February on presidential power. Watch them, please, even if you're tired of this cast of Judiciary Committee characters. Our whole system is on the line.

A Power Outage on Capitol Hill - Newsweek National News - MSNBC.com

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