Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.


- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Russ Feingold on restoring our Constitution

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) spoke yesterday in a special hearing to address how we can repair the damage done by the Bush-Cheney administration to the system of checks and balances and to our fundamental liberties as Americans.

Seems like the perfect opportunity for our presidential candidates to demonstrate their interest in change.

But as John Nichols pointed out in The Nation, neither party's presidential candidate - Obama or McCain - was there. Nor did either make any statement today acknowledging Constitution Day, and the ravages that have been inflicted on our Constitution by the current administration (Mr. Obama - my God - how many opportunities do you plan to miss?)

As a voting American citizen, I'd sure like to know... why weren't they there? This new 'Unitary Executive' that Bush and Cheney have created somehow isn't relevant to the future president?

It certainly is relevant to us.

If the national media had done its job in their seemingly endless and empty candidate debates, our current candidates' plans concerning our former system of checks and balances would be known to us.

How strange that we are facing a national election with absolutely no idea what either candidate plans to do to restore our Constitution once he assumes the nations' highest office - resplendent with all of its new kingly powers. Or perhaps we will one day have... a queen? Of course Palin didn't make a statement either (must not have been her day to speak with the media.)

Independent candidate Ralph Nader took the opportunity today to issue a video statement blasting both parties for failing to protect our constitutional rights as citizens; he even mentions our media crisis, and calls on American citizens to 'be the media ourselves.'

Constitution Subcommittee chair Senator Russ Feingold said the following at yesterday's call to action:

Tomorrow, September 17, is the 221st anniversary of the day in 1787 when 39 members of the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in Philadelphia. It is a sad fact as we approach that anniversary that for the past seven and a half years, and especially since 9/11, the Bush Administration has treated the Constitution and the rule of law with a disrespect never before seen in the history of this country. By now, the public can be excused for being almost numb to new revelations of government wrongdoing and overreaching. The catalogue is breathtaking, even when immensely complicated and far reaching programs and events are reduced to simple catch phrases: torture, Guantanamo, ignoring the Geneva Conventions, warrantless wiretapping, data mining, destruction of emails, U.S. Attorney firings, stonewalling of congressional oversight, abuse of the state secrets doctrine and executive privilege, secret abrogation of executive orders, signing statements. This is a shameful legacy that will haunt our country for years to come.

There can be no dispute that the rule of law is central to our democracy and our system of government. But what does ‘the rule of law' really mean? Well, as Thomas Paine said in 1776: ‘In America, the law is king.' That, of course, was a truly revolutionary concept at a time when the King, quite literally, was the law.

Over 200 years later, we still must struggle to fulfill Paine's simply stated vision. It is not always easy, nor is it something that once done need not be carefully maintained. Justice Frankfurter wrote that law:

is an enveloping and permeating habituation of behavior, reflecting the counsels of reason on the part of those entrusted with power in reconciling the pressures of conflicting interests. Once we conceive ‘the rule of law' as embracing the whole range of presuppositions on which government is conducted . . ., the relevant question is not, has it been achieved, but, is it conscientiously and systematically pursued.

The post-September 11th period is not, of course, the first time that events have caused great stress for the checks and balances of our system of government. As Berkeley law professors Daniel Farber and Anne Joseph O'Connell write in testimony submitted for this hearing: ‘The greatest constitutional crisis in our history came with the Civil War, which tested the nature of the Union, the scope of presidential power, and the extent of liberty that can survive in war time.' But as legal scholar Louis Fisher of the Library of Congress describes in his testimony, President Lincoln pursued a much different approach than our current President when he believed he needed to act in an extra-constitutional manner to save the Union. He acted openly, and sought Congress's participation and ultimately approval of his actions. According to Dr. Fisher:

[Lincoln] took actions we are all familiar with, including withdrawing funds from the Treasury without an appropriation, calling up the troops, placing a blockade on the South, and suspending the writ of habeas corpus. In ordering those actions, Lincoln never claimed to be acting legally or constitutionally and never argued that Article II somehow allowed him to do what he did. Instead, Lincoln admitted to exceeding the constitutional boundaries of his office and therefore needed the sanction of Congress.... He recognized that the superior lawmaking body was Congress, not the President.

Each era brings its own challenges to the conscientious and systematic pursuit of the rule of law. How the leaders of our government respond to those challenges at the time they occur is, of course, critical. But recognizing that leaders do not always perform perfectly, that not every President is an Abraham Lincoln, the years that follow a crisis are perhaps even more important. And soon, this Administration will be over. So the obvious question is: ‘Where do we go from here?' I believe that one of the most important things that the next President must do, whoever he may be, is take immediate and concrete steps to restore the rule of law in this country. He must make sure that the excesses of this Administration don't become so ingrained in our system that they change the very notion of what the law is.

That, of course, is much easier said than done. It's not simply a matter of a new President saying, ‘Ok, I won't do that anymore.' This President's transgressions are so deep and the damage to our system of government so extensive that a concerted effort from the executive and legislative branches will be needed. And that means the new President will, in some respects, have to go against his institutional interests.

That is why I called this hearing - to hear from legal and historical experts on how the next President should go about tackling the wreckage that this President will leave. I've asked our two panels of experts who will testify to be forward-looking - to not only review what has gone wrong in the past seven or eight years, but to address very specifically what needs to be set right starting next year and how to go about doing it.

In addition to the testimony of the witnesses here today, I solicited written testimony from advocates, law professors, historians and other experts. So far we have received nearly two dozen submissions from a host of national groups and distinguished individuals. I want to thank each and every person who made the effort to prepare testimony for this hearing. You have done the country a real service.

All of this testimony will be included in the written record of the hearing, which I plan to present to the incoming Administration. The submissions we have received so far can be seen on my website at feingold.senate.gov. I hope that many of these recommendations, along with the testimony we will hear today, will serve as a blueprint for the new President so that he can get started right away on this immense and extremely important job of restoring the rule of law.

In a video interview (sound only) Senator Feingold made basically the same statement last week:

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