Friday, March 23, 2007

John Dean: Expect Bush To Litigate Unitary Executive Theory

In an editorial at Findlaw today former legal counsel to President Nixon during Watergate, John Dean, writes that if you want to understand the current US Attorney firing controversy, you need to understand the "unitary executive" theory:

Professors Manheim and Ides trace the origins, evolution, and current uses of the unitary executive theory. While it is beyond the scope of their analysis, they also, along the way, provide information useful to deconstruct and critically analyze this concocted effort at legal (and historical) legerdemain. This is not the place for me to unload on this hogwash theory, but I must pause to comment, at least, on its purported links to Alexander Hamilton's purported vision of "a unitary executive."

This was not remotely Hamilton's vision. Listen, for example, to what Morton Rosenberg says; he is a specialist in American Public Law at the non-partisan Congressional Reference Service of the Library of Congress, and he is described by many of those who know him as the smartest guy in the place. Rosenberg was one of the first to correct this loopy scholarship when it began appearing in the early 1980s.

Rosenberg places Hamilton in a realistic context, as he knocks down several shaky pillars upon which unitary executive theorists have tried to build: "The framers had no reason to envisage the management of an industrial nation as the essential function of the office [of the president.]," Rosenberg explains. "Whatever managerial insights Hamilton had were confined to commerce, banking, and monetary policy…. Nor did [the framers] conceive of the presidency as an institutionalized representation of popular will distinct from, let alone capable of opposition to, the will expressed by the legislature. Even Hamilton's most strenuous defenses of executive authority emphasized the president's role as the managerial agent for the legislature, not his popular independence in reflection of some other popular will."

Manheim and Ides explain that the essence of the unitary executive "theory" is "more about power than it is about law." And power, here, means presidential power: The "unitary executive" theory is a theoretical, legal, historical, and Constitutional hook conservatives have invented to expand presidential power.

These "unitarians" postulate, as Manheim and Ides note, "that the authority to enforce federal law and to implement federal policy rest exclusively in the Executive Branch and, most importantly, the ultimate prerogative over this executive function is vested solely and completely in the President, who sits atop the hierarchy of executive power and responsibility." This exclusivity, in the unitarians' view, precludes any but the most minimal role for Congress: Its role, they believe, is simply to decide whether to appropriate money; otherwise, it must butt out completely.

It appears to me that current neoconservative philosophy is advocating something closer to Caesarism. It seems we are becoming more like ancient Rome every day. Interestingly, the founding fathers of our country wanted to avoid Rome's mistakes. It seems like we are inching closer to adopting the worst aspects of Rome at every turn.

It is important we restore balance to our political system. We must defend Congress' power to investigate potential abuses of power by the Executive Branch. If we don't, everything that our founding fathers fought for will have been lost. And the terrorists "who hate us for our freedom" -- as President Bush put it -- will have won after all.


Brad said...

One way to cure conservatives of that philosophy of a strong chief executive is to put a liberal in that position and endure all the ramifications thereof.

Dave said...

I don't want a liberal or a conservative in the White House with this type of philosophy. It's scary as hell. The thought of Hillary as President, following in the footsteps of W and running the White House the way he does, is horrific.