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Most Presidents Ignore the Constitution

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ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO
Wall Street Journal
Thursday, Oct 30, 2008

In a radio interview in 2001, then-Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama noted — somewhat ruefully — that the same Supreme Court that ordered political and educational equality in the 1960s and 1970s did not bring about economic equality as well. Although Mr. Obama said he could come up with arguments for the constitutionality of such action, the plain meaning of the Constitution quite obviously prohibits it.

Mr. Obama is hardly alone in his expansive view of legitimate government. During the past month, Sen. John McCain (who, like Sen. Obama, voted in favor of the $700 billion bank bailout) has been advocating that $300 billion be spent to pay the monthly mortgage payments of those in danger of foreclosure. The federal government is legally powerless to do that, as well.

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt first proposed legislation that authorized the secretary of agriculture to engage in Soviet-style central planning — a program so rigid that it regulated how much wheat a homeowner could grow for his own family’s consumption — he rejected arguments of unconstitutionality. He proclaimed that the Constitution was “quaint” and written in the “horse and buggy era,” and predicted the public and the courts would agree with him.

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Remember that FDR had taken — and either Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain will soon take — the oath to uphold that old-fashioned document, the one from which all presidential powers come.

Unfortunately, these presidential attitudes about the Constitution are par for the course. Beginning with John Adams, and proceeding to Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush, Congress has enacted and the president has signed laws that criminalized political speech, suspended habeas corpus, compelled support for war, forbade freedom of contract, allowed the government to spy on Americans without a search warrant, and used taxpayer dollars to shore up failing private banks.

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All of this legislation — merely tips of an unconstitutional Big Government iceberg — is so obviously in conflict with the plain words of the Constitution that one wonders how Congress gets away with it.

In virtually every generation and during virtually every presidency (Jefferson, Jackson and Cleveland are exceptions that come to mind) the popular branches of government have expanded their power. The air you breathe, the water you drink, the size of your toilet tank, the water pressure in your shower, the words you can speak under oath and in private, how your physician treats your illness, what your children study in grade school, how fast you can drive your car, and what you can drink before you drive it are all regulated by federal law. Congress has enacted over 4,000 federal crimes and written or authorized over one million pages of laws and regulations. Worse, we are expected by law to understand all of it.

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This article was posted: Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 11:43 am





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