Article V Blog – April 5th 2016. As we get worked up over the November elections, it is worthwhile to step back a moment from politics and take a look at an important facet of our current (as opposed to constitutional) government.
The actual powers of our ruling institutions more resemble those of Stuart England than those of the governing institutions set out in our Constitution .
Make no mistake, the president has UNITARY authority over the executive branch. Every freedom absorbing regulation or crime committed by the EPA, IRS, HHS etc. is his responsibility. The EPA shuts down coal fired electric plants, the IRS shuts down political opposition, and HHS violates religious freedom of the Little Sisters of the Poor with the president’s active or tacit approval.
Our Constitution’s provisions for impeachment and its prohibition of legislative attainder are lessons learned from 17th century Stuart England. That tumultuous century began with domination of parliament by the Crown. It ended with uneasy tension, a balance of power between the legislative and executive. In between, members of the House of Commons regularly stood up to kings and their ministers at great personal risk. If the king wanted money, the Commons had to appropriate it. While the king could not be impeached (although one was beheaded) his ministers darn well could, and they were. Bills of Attainder were not uncommon either, and one minster was executed via this legislative, non-judicial weapon.
Fast-forward to 1787. Those stupid slave owning and formerly English white guys in breeches took some lessons from their English tradition and history. They incorporated Constitutional clauses which struck not only a balance in the functions of a new government but included means to remind chief executives, that in America, The People are sovereign.
Appropriations. Early 17th century English kings often got away with taxing and spending revenue as they saw fit. What the Commons won in actual and political combat, was quietly included in our Constitution, the appropriations clause. Without an appropriation which begins in the House of Reps, the President is supposed to be denied the fuel to implement anything. Over recent decades, this power has effectively, for practical purposes been punted to the executive.
Bad Men. Despite the allure of legislative felony trials, our Framers nixed them. However, our system made provision for firing the occasional dirtbag executive, cabinet secretaries and other high appointees. By this, every President and his officers were expected to constantly look over their shoulders, just to be sure an angry congress wasn’t bearing down on them. The impeachment duty of the House of Reps and trial by Senate has been effectively excised from the Constitution. What crime against our Supreme Law must a president commit before he can be found guilty and removed from office?
What is actually far worse, presidential immunity from impeachment/conviction has been extended to his secretaries and officers. Recalling the unitary nature of the American executive, the unsaid reason involves face and pride, for to accuse an executive branch appointee has become tantamount to accusing the president. Since the president cannot be insulted, let alone impeached, his ministers are also safe.
Oh, and then there is Hillary.
All in all our situation smacks of retrograde government, government in reverse gear to a time before our English and Colonial ancestors fought, bled and died to secure freedom. English kings with divine right to rule could not be impeached and removed from office. In America 2016, not only an elected president, but his current and past high appointees are also exempt from the law.
Torquemada. Oh, and just as I was about to close this out, a friend made me aware of sixteen state attorneys generals who intend to prosecute companies that deny climate change.