Exactly a year from now, the first week of November 2008, you will vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Or Barack Obama. Or John Edwards. Or Chris Dodd. Or Dumbledore. Or whomever. Just cross your fingers and pray that the non-GOP candidate wins, whoever he or she is. Because the U.S. Constitution won't survive another Republican administration.
George W. Bush's very first lie as president took place at his inauguration when he pledged to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." The Republicans under George Bush have trashed the Fourth Amendment (warrantless wiretaps); whittled away at habeas corpus (the Military Commissions Act); Tasered the First Amendment (gag orders); and leveled the Constitution's cornerstone formula of checks and balances (why should Harriet Miers or Karl Rove have to testify before Congress?). All of this is scary in its own right, but something scarier has happened, something that's going to make the task of reclaiming the country trickier than simply tossing Bush out next November.
The Bush administration has gotten the public so accustomed to a neutered Constitution that we're facing a growing constitutional crisis at the state and local level.
Did you hear that the public library in Topeka, Kansas, censored an employee from talking about the Lawrence v. Texas (gay rights) ruling? Or that in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the city attempted to limit the number of protestors that were allowed to attend a demonstration?
Or how about right here in liberal Seattle, where our own mayor, Democrat Greg Nickels, has made a habit, like President Bush, of ignoring directives from the legislative branch? When the council passed guidelines governing how the city awards its public defender contracts (a way of ensuring that the city wasn't discriminating against certain public defense firms), Mayor Nickels ignored the legislation. When the city council passed a budget item for more community service officers (police officers who deal with civil disputes like those between a landlord and tenant), Mayor Nickels ignored the legislation. And when the council tried to head off Nickels's heavy-handed nightlife licensing scheme by passing more reasonable legislation, Nickels didn't sign it.
Tension between the executive and legislative branches is nothing new. But ignoring the legislative branch is new, and President Bush has made it acceptable.
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The constitutionally suspect standards set by the Bush administration are appalling. A full catalogue of abuses isn't possible here, but in honor of the one-year mark until we get to vote on his successor, here are some greatest hits.
Bush has flouted the separation of powers. The most blatant example is Bush's use of "signing statements" to ignore more than 750 laws enacted by Congress. Bush has used signing statements to circumvent everything from affirmative-action provisions to whistle-blower protections and he quietly added a signing statement to the Patriot Act that claimed the president could ignore provisions in the law that required the administration to report on the FBI's use of expanded powers to search homes and seize documents.
Meanwhile, in the "first they came for the [blank]" department, the Bush administration has attempted to rewrite the rules when it comes to detaining people. Bush iced habeas corpus (the right to know why you're being held), used military tribunals instead of traditional courts, and permitted torture. Sure, they've only done it to "enemy combatants" or "material witnesses." Or Muslims. So far. (A chilling 2005 report by the Human Rights Watch documents how 42 of 70 "material witnesses," all Muslim, were wrongly held in federal prison, some up to six months, without charges.)
The Bush administration's defining achievement, however, has been its war on the Fourth Amendment, the right to privacy. Using warrantless wiretaps, the administration has monitored phone calls and e-mails. Working with AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon (yay Qwest!), Bush's National Security Agency has kept tabs on the phone activity of millions of Americans. And, again, without court approval, the administration monitored the banking activities of thousands of Americans.
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Bush's failure to stand by the Constitution has trickled down, emboldening others in positions of power. From regional courts to companies to local governments, a disdain for citizens and the legislative process has become commonplace.
There's been a rash of overzealous behavior from corporate America lately. Comcast is blocking internet users from sharing files. AT&T censored a concert webcast when the songs got too political. And Verizon attempted to block NARAL from sending text messages to its supporters.
Companies aren't the only ones following Bush's lead. Regional courts are ruling in startling ways. In early October, the Fourth Amendment got the Bush treatment when the 8th Circuit issued a radical ruling that police do not need to establish probable cause to do thermal imaging of private property to check for drugs. More famously, the District Court of Alaska (and eventually the Roberts Court) ruled that high-school administrators can clamp down on off-campus student speech.
Municipalities are in on the act, too: Hawkinsville, Georgia, outlawed baggy pants; in Chesterfield County, Virginia, a teacher was fired for selling controversial art during his off hours; in Santa Barbara, California, a man was arrested for reading the names of Iraq war dead over a megaphone.
The Constitution is also getting bruised in Washington State. Last year, the state GOP infamously passed a party platform calling for a repeal of the 14th Amendment—stating that children of illegal immigrants should not be allowed to become United States citizens! And again, our own Democratic mayor is behaving badly. In addition to ignoring the legislative branch, his nightlife crackdown came with raids that mainstream council member Jean Godden said raised serious civil rights questions.
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Voting Democratic in November 2008 isn't going to restore the U.S. Constitution. Bush's assault at the top has fostered a deep corrosion of Democracy at the local level. Fixing this is going to require a root canal rather than a simple flossing.
So, vote for Clinton or whomever a year from now. But don't expect miracles. Bush has altered our Democracy in ways that will take years to restore. And even more nerve-racking about counting on next November? It's over a year away. Who knows how much more constitutional damage Bush will inflict in that time.