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Separation of Powers

The separation of powers concept, so fundamental in our Constitution to checking government power grabs, seems to be on life support.  The reason I say this is that for separation of powers to work, each branch of the government has to, you know, actually monitor and try to check power grabs in other branches.   What I see today are three branches that have kind of reached some sort of peace treaty, agreeing to let the others run amok as long as it is allowed to do so itself.  To support this hypothesis, I make the following observations:

  • The executive branch continues to try to accumulate power, adding "indefinite detentions without trial" and "warrantless searches" to its arsenal, justifying nearly anything with the blanket argument that "the world is different post 9/11."  The Supreme Court has generally proved itself unwilling to do anything about it, which should be all the more the case in the future since both Bush appointees seem very comfortable with accretions of executive power.  Even the opposition party, though willing to make verbal assaults, seems unwilling to take any real measures.
  • Congress seems perfectly willing to spend their time wallowing in pork and dreaming up new earmarks to satisfy prominent donors.  The current budgeting process is a fiasco, and the executive branch seems unwilling to exercise any adult supervision, including an incredible record of zero vetos is nearly 6 years.  Congress has shied away from working on any issues of any seriousness (e.g. Social Security) which is perhaps good for us, since their only attempt to fix runaway spending in Medicare resulted in them adding an expensive and ridiculously complex drug benefit.  Congress and the President conspired to pass the egregious McCain-Feingold speech limit bill, which effectively helps protect the job of Congressional incumbents and protects them from 3rd party criticism when approaching an election.
  • With Congress unwilling to address any legislative issues of substance, the judiciary seems perfectly happy to take their place, creating new law in hundreds of areas.  And Congress seems willing to let them.  It can only be dangerous for a Congressperson to deal with hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion - its much better to let the judiciary do it for you.  Often Congressman can get the outcomes they want, without actually having to create a legislative record on the issue that might come up in a campaign.

The whole situation depresses me just writing about it.

Posted on February 17, 2006 at 10:58 AM | Permalink


This is so very true, and very well put.

Posted by: Matthew | Feb 17, 2006 11:15:30 AM

You could not be more wrong. Things are going well in the Good Ole USA political arena: Fighting. Bitching. Name calling. Lying. Truth telling.

Posted by: TomCat | Feb 18, 2006 7:32:37 AM

yeah, I just blogged on this idea a couple of days ago too. Frustrating.


Posted by: Prof. Goose | Feb 18, 2006 12:58:02 PM

I agree and the only remedy I believe has any potential to improve the situation would be to impose term limits on both the legislature and judiciary. The Constitutional separation of government powers has worked as the Founders intended, preventing the emergence of a single all powerful individual ruler. By not insuring turn over of personnel in the other positions of power, however, they left the door open for the development of personal fiefdoms that reward the status quo and relegate public service to a secondary goal.

Posted by: random10 | Feb 18, 2006 9:18:26 PM

Each of the 3 branches has the power to "check" the other, but when do they have an incentive to do so? Rarely, it seems.

Posted by: Steve Podraza | Feb 21, 2006 11:05:04 AM

"By not insuring turn over of personnel in the other positions of power, however, they left the door open for the development of personal fiefdoms that reward the status quo and relegate public service to a secondary goal."

On that I could not agree more. Term limitations is a must for all elected offices, new blood prevents the same old crap from continuing.

Second, get the attorneys in this nation out of the law writing business. They only write them for themselves anyway. they create them, they argue them, they judge them. Isn't that what momopoly laws are designed to prevent, a single industry from becoming too powerful and controlling?

BTW we may have a justice dept, but it's by name only. They replaced it with a legal system!

Posted by: TC | Feb 23, 2006 10:04:16 PM

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