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Some Background

Glenn Greenwald looks at the attacks on freedom of the press and writes about People who don’t understand how America works. Tbogg, tboss of the tbasset hounds wonders about Abu Gonzo’s priorities.

For those who have never bothered to read history or to pay attention when it was a course, I thought I’d provide a little series of notes for them to look at when they have time. These are links to Wikipedia articles, but at the end of each there are links to more in depth articles.

Understanding these points helps to understand why the Constitution was written and what the basis was for the assumptions that the founders made in that document.

When you are talking about the law you really need to start with Henry II of England, who in an effort to consolidate his power, really took habeas corpus to heart. Henry wanted people to use the Royal courts rather than local courts and habeas was the admission ticket.

Of course the peers of the realm were not amused by this centralization, so during the reign of Henry’s son, John, they got together and forced John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, establishing that even the king was subject to the limitation of the law.

Things went semi-smoothly until Charles I became really annoyed at all of the restrictions on his power. He managed to push until Parliament had had enough and the English Civil War of 1642 – 1651 broke out. In the end Charles was separated from his head.

After a short time under Cromwell et al. the monarchy was re-established, but James II decided he could act like his dad, and Parliament responded with the Glorious Revolution which was essentially Parliament and William of Orange removing James from the throne and putting James’ daughter, Mary, and her husband, the aforementioned William of Orange, on the throne.

Before William and Mary were given the keys to the castle they had to agree to the Bill of Rights of 1689 which is the basis for the US Bill of Rights.

If you look at the complaints against George III in the Declaration of Independence, it is the same theme, the executive is overreaching and using more power than people think it should have.

The pattern is clear: the executive tries to grab power and the people have to stop this from happening. That’s why Congress, not the President, controls the money, issues the rules for the military, and declares wars. The President is supposed to be enforcing the laws passed by Congress.

There are no magic powers for the President hidden in the Constitution. Based on a long history with executives trying to take more power than was good for the people, the power of the President is specifically and intentionally limited.


1 Steve Bates { 05.28.06 at 11:58 pm }

Thanks for the history lesson, Bryan… some of us didn’t listen very well when we were kids, though I at least have tried to make up for it later.

The notion that a president has unlimited power just because there’s a war going on would have been enough to cause most of our founders, even the most authoritarian among them, to have a stroke. Bush (actually probably Cheney; I attribute very little intellectual understanding of American constitutional theory to Bush), Gonzo, Yoo et al are making claims that are beyond astonishing. I can only hope that some GOP members of Congress have a strong enough sense of checks and balances that they eventually put up some active resistance to Bush’s claims to essentially a monarch’s power.

Have you noticed that Dubya is the third American president named George? Here we are, once again, fighting unreasonable claims of arbitrary authority by a George the Third…

2 Bryan { 05.29.06 at 9:51 am }

Steve, the amazing thing is that given the history, people like Yoo still believe that they can conjure up these unknown powers.

Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, but he didn’t think it was constitutional when he did it and he was dealing with a rebellion. A lot of things were done during wars that had to be “undone” afterwards because they weren’t constitutional.

3 phinky { 05.29.06 at 12:06 pm }

George and Dick have been ignoring the rule of law since the US Supreme Court installed them in office with their ruling in Bush v. Gore.

Do you remember back in the 90s when all you heard was Republicans screaming about how the rule of law applies to the President and that’s why Clinton was impeached for lying about adultery? I smelled a big stinking rat when aWol’s service record came to light and not one pundit who condemned Bill Clinton for dodging the draft said the same thing about aWol. I knew that aWol was an idiot back then, that’s why I voted for Gore. Now the NYTimes thinks that JEB! should run in 2012 or 2016.

4 Bryan { 05.29.06 at 3:10 pm }

Well, the gossip mongers will have a field day with JEB’s wife and kids. The wingers will complain that Señora Bush will open a taco stand on the South lawn, and being a Catholic, even a conservative Catholic, won’t help with the Religious Reich.

Frankly I think he wants to go make some money so he can afford his wife’s wardrobe. After 8 years of the restrictions on income that Florida politicians put up with, JEB needs some quality time with his checkbook and stock portfolio.

5 Steve Bates { 05.29.06 at 8:49 pm }

I don’t know. When you think of JEB’s likely eventual inheritance, that’s a lot of bling-bling for the Mrs. He’ll get by.

6 Bryan { 05.29.06 at 9:01 pm }

When your wife spends $50k in Paris for clothes on one trip and then tries to avoid US customs you need to make a lot of money to cover the lawyers, plane fare, the clothes, and the duties.

It’s Mama Bush’s family that has the real money, so I don’t think he should hold his breath.