The checks and balances system in the Constitution worked — this time

Published 12:37 pm Monday, July 3, 2006

Finally, President George W. Bush has been stopped in one of his many efforts to destroy the United States Constitution.

A 5-3 majority on the U.S. Supreme Court stopped him from violating one the most basic tenets of our Constitution, that everyone who comes before its judicial system, whatever form that judicial system may take, has certain rights that cannot be simply stripped away at the whim of a dictator. It also becomes more obvious with each of his actions that this president aspires to dictatorship, or at least to the privileges of dictatorship.

He spies on his fellow citizens and gets all flustered when they find out. He starts talking about “national security” as if it is the right of the president to classify anything he wants to keep it from public scrutiny.

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This nation’s freedom depends on public scrutiny of the actions of its elected officials. He can’t seem to abide the fact that at least some of the people who elected him to office won’t simply roll over and accept his every action as being good for them. Bush says he’s president, so we don’t have to worry about a thing.

He’ll spy on us, begin eroding our constitutional liberties in the name of national security and just generally toss the Constitution out the window. It’s a good document to look at in its display case at the National Archives but nobody should take it seriously, is the attitude he displays and the policy he follows.

Thank goodness that at least five members of the U.S. Supreme Court take the Constitution seriously. Their defense of the Constitution is especially noteworthy and made more precious by coming so close the Fourth of July, the birthday of this nation, so close to that date, in fact, that it should be taken as a birthday present to the nation.

What’s stunning is that one of the three who voted to allow the Constitution to be diminished, a man supposedly trained in constitutional law, was apparently shocked that the court was being asked to review an action of Congress and a subsequent action of the President. The major purpose of the court is to protect the United States Constitution from those actions of Congress and the President that would diminish the Constitution or reduce the scope of liberty it guarantees to the citizens of this nation.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, seen by many observers as a man between the archly conservative justices on one side and the moderately liberal justices on the other, probably defined best the problem with President Bush’s effort to try the detainees by something other than a court of law.

“Trial by military commission raises separation-of-powers concerns of the highest order. … Concentration of power (in one branch of government) puts personal liberty in peril of arbitrary action by officials, an incursion the Constitution’s three-part system is designed to avoid.”

Thank you, Justice Kennedy.

Actually, it’s quite frightening that three of eight justices voting on the appeal by a Guantanamo detainee couldn’t see the constitutional problems with the military commissions proposed by Bush. The ninth justice, now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, had ruled for the president in the same case when he was an appeals court judge. That appears to pretty well show he has as little regard for the U.S. Constitution as the three justices who voted to approve the attack on the Constitution and the president who mounted the attack.

What’s really most troubling about the whole situation with the detainees in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is that they are facing charges brought by Americans in some sort of American courts for actions that took place in another country. That the leadership of those who are now detainees that planned the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, should be hunted down and either captured for trial or killed probably should not be debated.

The foot soldiers, which the majority of these detainees appear to be, is another matter. Held as prisoners of war, since we declare we are in a war, yes, but tried for crimes? The soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in our military services are committing crimes by fighting against our enemies, if you follow that logic to its conclusion.

Our Constitution is a marvelous document. It has guided us through war and peace quite successfully for more than 200 years. It can guide us through this crisis equally successfully. We don’t need a small group of judges or a president or members of Congress trying to second guess it.

If we allow this to happen, then our enemies will have defeated us by taking from us our most precious possession — our liberty. If we allow this to happen, that most precious document that our forebears fought to write for us, to defend for us, will become just a meaningless scrap of paper blowing in the wind, and not a mild wind either, but one of hurricane force.

I strongly urge our president and the four justices who would allow that to happen to spend some time reading and studying this document, to learn the respect for the United States Constitution that elementary teachers try to engender in their students for this most precious document of the foundation of our nation. It’s all too apparent they now have no respect or love for the United States Constitution and its promise.