Thursday, March 22, 2007

Constitution & Attorneys

John Yoo in the WSJ ($$)

But presidents need to have their own people in place in order to promote a consistent, national agenda. While U.S. attorneys can gather better information on, and react more swiftly to, local conditions, the Constitution still gives the president the responsibility to govern the activities of all U.S. officials. As James Madison said in 1789 in the first Congress, "no power could be more completely executive than that of appointing, inspecting and controlling those who had the immediate administration of the laws." Ever since, the Supreme Court has recognized that the power to remove is the power to control.

The president has no constitutional authority to order executive branch officials to obey his policies, except by removing them. If independence rules, the defense secretary could double the surge of troops into Baghdad to end the fighting there, the secretary of state could settle the Korean nuclear crisis on easier terms, and the attorney general could stop bringing drug trafficking cases if he disagreed with the war on drugs.

Critics want to insulate U.S. attorneys from political control by the president. Some have proposed over the years that the attorney general either be elected or chosen through some "neutral" non-political process. But how do you guarantee "neutrality"? Our Constitution's well-tempered system of checks and balances already does that quite well. Presidents are elected because of their political preferences and are expected to manage the executive branch accordingly. Congressmen do the same. Since when has a Democratic congressman, to be neutral and fair, had to hire Republicans on his staff?

His view of the Constitution sure seems right to me. It also seems this hubbub is purely contrived. As I noted recently, there sure seems to be a lot of this sort of stuff with Congress these days. Can we say it is the curse of the rationally ignorant voters?

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