Bush: Torture away, fellas!

The President announces openly his plan to defy the statute he just signed. Official Washington yawns; the majority in Congress is more committed to party and ideology than to its institutional prerogatives. Unless and until Republicans become committed republicans again, they cannot be trusted to govern.

Remember Alito’s cute little idea of having the President try to impose his own interpretation on legislation through the medium of a signing statement? It looks as if someone in the Bush Administration does.

Marty Lederman at Balkinization provides a chilling reading of the signing statement on the Defense Appropriation, in which the President announces his intention to defy the law whenever he sees fit.

Hat tip: Orin Kerr, via Armando at Daily Kos, via Atrios.

As Lederman points out, this has the makings of a Constitutional crisis. But as some of his commenters point out, the Congress will surely roll over and play dead rather than defending its prerogatives.

There’s always something faintly comical about institutional loyalty, as in the 1950s story of the junior Democratic Congressman who, speaking to a senior colleague, referred to the Republicans as “the enemy.” His senior rebuked him: “The Republicans aren’t the enemy. The Republicans are the opposition. The Senate is the enemy.” But without those attitudes, or some sort of real commitment to Constitutional government, there’s no motivation for the Republican majority in Congress to stand in the way of the lawbreaking of a Republican President.

That seems to me the most important, and frightening, recent change in our mode of government. Partisan and ideological loyalties now trump institutional loyalties to an extent inconsistent with the Madisonian project of preventing elective tyranny by letting “ambition check ambition.” Unless and until Republicans become committed republicans again, they cannot be trusted to govern.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com