I will make this posting short: I find unsettling and dispiriting – close to unbelievable — the scorn some in the Senate GOP have directed at Rand Paul for his filibuster this week.
These critics have suggested that Senator Paul was grandstanding, to the purpose of compromising presidential war powers.
How is that again?
The sense of the Senate resolution on which Paul sought a vote in return for yielding the floor – a vote that Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin blocked — included a clear and present danger exception for the president. Here is the language: “the use of drones to execute or target American citizens on American soil who pose no imminent threat clearly violates Constitutional rights.”
That language confirms presidential war powers, even as it confirms the core rights of American citizens: right of trial, right to be confronted by your accusers, right to mount a defense — the assurance that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
The restrictions that Paul’s language asserts on the president are in no way novel. They are at the heart of the separation of powers and the nature of a constitutional executive and a constitutional system.
In many ways including this one, our Constitution of liberty is a constitution of balance. Senator Paul was seeking to confirm that balance.
There was every reason to believe that the administration viewed the balance as inconvenient. In hearings the day before Paul’s filibuster, Ted Cruz closely questioned Attorney-General Eric Holder on the point: does the government have a right to kill American citizens on American soil via drone attacks? Mr. Holder repeatedly refused to say “no.” What could the Attorney General’s refusal have meant other than that the administration was asserting the power to fire drones at will.
Some defenders of Senator Paul have emphasized this White House’s pattern of ignoring separation of powers and restrictions of law whenever it wants. A president whose refrain is, if Congress won’t act, I will, is a president to hold on a close rein, they suggest.
After all, this president makes recess appointments without a recess, ignores a church’s liberty to refrain from paying for abortion services that its faith regards as abhorrent without a qualm and issues regulations on such matters as climate change that run directly opposite to Congressional intent without missing a beat.
OK. True enough. And true enough that even when under pressure they back off such moves, they keep coming back. But in a matter such as summary execution of an American citizen on American soil (in fact, summary execution of anyone on American soil other than when presenting a clear and present danger to others), every president, no matter how scrupulous, should be kept on a close rein.
I can understand how the Democrats would be sunshine soldiers in the defense of core constitutional rights. Even while proclaiming their allegiance to the Bill of Rights, if not exactly to the entire Constitution, for decades they have been playing fast and loose with limited government, restriction on executive prerogative (when the executive was their man) and with such rights to which they were cool as rights of property.
But the Republicans? The GOP is the party of liberty.
I realize Senator Paul rubs some of his GOP colleagues the wrong way. They should have put those feeling aside. With his filibuster, the senator took the right stand on the right issue at the right time.
As I say, to me it is unsettling that several senators I like and admire not only failed to join him but sharply criticized him as well. They should have known better.