a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

September 17 is Constitution Day

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 15th, 2008

…so let’s make it a bad one for George Bush, Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and Josh Bolten by joining this American Freedom Campaign petition:

…In order for our government to function, we must have checks and balances. In order to prevent a president from assuming king-like powers and to ensure that all presidents are held accountable for their actions, Congress must have effective congressional oversight ability. And, of course, our presidents must respect that power.

George W. Bush does not.

It is time to put an end to this defiling of our Constitution. The U.S. House of Representatives has set September 26 as a target date for adjournment. By that time, Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and Josh Bolten must comply with the congressional subpoenas they have been issued – and which a federal judge has ordered them to follow.

If they do not, then George W. Bush must be impeached and removed from office….

Full text and petition here — and of course, feel free to join it before September 17th.  The American Freedom Campaign is organizing more than that for Constitution Day, as a press release last week explained:

Groups From Across the Political Spectrum Call on Presidential Candidates – and the Media – to Dedicate Constitution Day (September 17) to Addressing Constitutional Issues

…This year, an ideologically diverse coalition of civil society groups and think tanks from the human rights, civil liberties, environmental, civil rights, open government, limited government, and public interest communities have joined forces in a rare effort to foster respect for the U.S. Constitution by an incoming administration. Leading the effort are the American Freedom Campaign, World Resources Institute and the Liberty Coalition.

The organizations are calling on presidential candidates from all parties to describe their commitment and ability to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” as the next president. These groups recognize that presidents exercise a great deal of discretion and flexibility in interpreting the Constitution and that abuse of constitutional rights and safeguards can have significant harmful effects on the American people’s lives. It is therefore essential, they assert, to understand where candidates stand on constitutional rights and the separation of powers prior to their election. These groups also believe it is the responsibility of the media to inform the public about the candidates’ positions on constitutional issues and to press the candidates for their positions if they are unknown…

I.e., what Charlie Savage did with all the candidates late last year for “executive power” issues (something I turned into a spreadsheet rating system and described in a blog post here.)

There’s broad support for this initiative at the “grass tops” level and — I hope — at the grass roots level as well. I attended a press conference last Friday announcing the plan, and Sarah Dufendach (Common Cause), Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), Dane Von Breichenruchardt (American Conservative Defense Alliance), and Robin Murphy (World Resources Institute), among others, all spoke about the urgency of this moment. Jon Pincus, Aviva OThirtytwo, and I were there (in person or by phone) representing “Get FISA Right”, one of the most recent expressions of citizen/netizen dissatisfaction with where our civil liberties are headed.

I went in hopes that this might become another nucleus of activism for a political drive like Nell Lancaster was writing about last week:

…post-power impeachment hearings are the single best way to uncover just what lawbreaking was done. Not only do impeachment investigations have much stronger testimony-extracting powers than regular Congressional hearings, but post-term impeachment is much less easily characterized as a “partisan witch hunt” because it’s removed from an electoral landscape. […]

Impeachment is the key to reversing the damage of the last eight years, not simply papering it over. The time to organize for demanding it is not after the election, but now.

Now as campaign director Steve Fox stressed at the press conference, advocating impeachment is not a goal of the “Constitution Day” initiative per se — and the goal of elevating an election campaign above lipsticks, pit bulls, and hockey moms is hugely important in its own right.

But AFC’s own willingness to use the “I word” in its demand for Rove, Miers, and Bolten to take the stand shows they’re a potential ally for impeachment later on — whether before or after the election, and whether they’re ready to consider that right now or not. After all, even if the September 26th recess comes and goes with no progress in getting testimony from the White House, the urgency of sanctioning a presidency that thumbed its nose at the Constitution won’t go away.

Nor will all the benefits of impeachment. See Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution (emphasis added):

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Moreover, Article II, Section 2 states:

[the President] shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

The implications are left as an exercise for the reader.

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