[eDebate] topic discussion

William Newnam wnewnam
Tue May 2 10:48:01 CDT 2006

While we still have not decided what we are voting for yet, I thought that I might make a public plug for the executive power topic, not necessarily that I think it should be the topic, but that it deserves strong consideration as a timely issue. 

I know that high schoolers are still debating this topic as I write this, but we do not necessarily have to be bound by the areas that bound them.  In other words they had to decrease authority to detain without charge and to conduct search and seizure.  I have confidence our topic committee can craft resolutions that minimize the overlap of these arguments and perhaps some of the negative arguments as well.

One of the reasons that I think we should consider this topic is that there is that the floodgates are opening on information regarding the excesses of presidential power.  While there has been a lot of carping in the past, the last year has witnessed an surge of information challenging the accretion of power into the executive branch.  Two powerful examples of this emerged yesterday in two very separate reports.  One is a report in the Boston Globe and the other from the Cato Institute.  

I encourage you to read these.  There has frequently been calls from this community to select timely and relevant topics.  I think we have the chance to pick one with certain timely and substantial relevance.  I encourage everyone to at least consider it.

I include the cites and some summary articles below.

bill n

The Cato Institute report is called, "Power Surge:  The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush" and is available at the following site:


The report is summarized in the Financial Times 
at http://news.ft.com/cms/s/6ec15f3c-d93d-11da-8b06-0000779e2340.html

Bush in 'ceaseless push for power'
>By Caroline Daniel in Washington
>Published: May 1 2006 19:30 | Last updated: May 1 2006 19:30
President George W. Bush had shown disdain and indifference for the US constitution by adopting an "astonishingly broad" view of presidential powers, a leading libertarian think-tank said on Monday.

The critique from the Cato Institute reflects growing criticism by conservatives about administration policy in areas such as the "war on terror" and undermining congressional power.

"The pattern that emerges is one of a ceaseless push for power, unchecked by either the courts or Congress, one in short of disdain for constitutional limits," the report by legal scholars Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch concludes.

That view was echoed last week by former congressman Bob Barr, a Republican, who called on Congress to exercise "leadership by putting the constitution above party politics and insisting on the facts" in the debate over illegal domestic wiretapping of terrorist suspects.

On Thursday Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the judiciary committee, noted: "Institutionally, the presidency is walking all over Congress."

Mr Healy and Mr Lynch argue that Mr Bush has also failed to protect the right to political free speech by approving a bill that eliminated "soft money" contributions to political parties. He had also cracked down on dissenters, with non-violent protesters being harassed by secret service agents whenever Mr Bush appears in public, it said.

The more serious charges concern Mr Bush's actions in the "war on terror". Citing a 1977 interview with President Richard Nixon, who said, "Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal", the report argues that the administration's public and private arguments for untrammelled executive power "comes perilously close to that view".

The authors cite spying by the National Security Agency and the "torture memos", produced by the Department of Justice to defend the authority of the president over interrogation techniques. "The constitution's text will not support anything like the doctrine of presidential absolutism the administration flirts with in the torture memos."

The Boston Globe article, "Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws:  President Cites Powers of His Office" is available at:


A follow up article appears in the Boston Globe today:


3 Democrats slam president over defying statutes
Say he cannot claim powers above the law
By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff  |  May 2, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Three leading Democratic senators blasted President Bush yesterday for having claimed he has the authority to defy more than 750 statutes enacted since he took office, saying that the president's legal theories are wrong and that he must obey the law.

''We're a government of laws, not men," Senate minority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said in a statement. ''It is not for George W. Bush to disregard the Constitution and decide that he is above the law."

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, accused Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney of attempting to concentrate ever more government power in their own hands.

''The Bush-Cheney administration has cultivated an insidious brand of unilateralism that regularly crosses into an arrogance of power," Leahy said in a statement. ''The scope of the administration's assertions of power is stunning, and it is chilling."

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, also said that the Bush administration, abetted by ''a compliant Republican Congress," was undermining the checks and balances that ''guard against abuses of power by any single branch of government."

The opposition lawmakers were reacting to a report in Sunday's Boston Globe detailing the scope of Bush's assertions that he can ignore laws that conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Bush is the first president since Thomas Jefferson to stay so long in office without vetoing a bill -- an act that gives the public notice that he has rejected a provision and gives Congress a chance to override his judgment. Instead, Bush has signed into law every bill that reached his desk, often in public ceremonies in which he praises the legislation and its sponsors.

Then, after the ceremony, Bush has quietly appended ''signing statements" to more than one out of every 10 bills he has signed, laying out his legal interpretation for government officials to follow when implementing the new laws. The statements, which until recently attracted little attention in Congress or in the media, are filed without fanfare in the federal record.

In many cases, Bush has said he can ignore acts of Congress that seek to regulate the military and spy agencies, asserting the Constitution grants him that power as commander in chief. For example, he has claimed the power to waive a torture ban, provisions for oversight in the Patriot Act, limits on domestic wiretapping, and numerous regulations for the military.

Other statutes Bush has asserted that he can ignore have little to do with national security. They include some types of affirmative-action provisions, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

The White House has declined to answer questions about Bush's legal claims in his signing statements. ''We follow the practice that has been followed by previous administrations," spokeswoman Dana Perino said yesterday.

But legal scholars say Bush's assertions have gone far beyond that of any previous president in US history. Bush has applied his signing statements to more than 750 new statutes. His numbers are by far a record for any US president, scholars say.

Many scholars also contend that Bush is usurping some of the lawmaking powers of the Congress and Constitution-interpreting powers of the courts.

But, Leahy said, because Bush's fellow Republicans control Congress, Democrats have no power to call hearings on Bush's attempt to ''pick and choose which laws he deems appropriate to follow."

''Just as disturbing as the president's use of press releases to announce which laws he will follow is the abject failure of the Republican-controlled Congress to act as a check against this executive power grab," Leahy said. ''Until Republican leaders let Congress fulfill its oversight role, this White House will have no incentive to stop this abuse of power." 
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