Stray thoughts: congressional review of state secrets

If you’ve been reading Ed Brayton’s blog, you know that one of the big problems with the current administration, like administration before it, is a penchant for using the so-called State Secret Privilege to avoid accountability for any questionable activities it might be engaging in. In fact, if anything, the current administration is even worse than the last one, and worse yet, they’re proving successful at getting the courts to rubber-stamp this kind of blanket immunity. And that’s eroding the distinction between the democratic republic we’re supposed to have, and the effective dictatorship we’re heading for.

So here’s my stray thought of the day: if the judicial branch won’t provide any checks and balances to the executive, why not Congress? The genius of the American constitution is the trade-off between the democratic power of the legislature and the executive power of the president, with the additional safeguard of an independent judiciary (on paper, at least). So why can’t we have a congressional investigation into the administration’s reckless invocation of the State Secret Privilege? Obama can’t argue that only the state has the right to be “in” on the secret, because Congress is just as much the state as he is. And if the president still won’t allow Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility to provide checks and balances to the abuse of executive power, then maybe it’s time for them to exercise their constitutional power of impeachment.

I’m no political scientist, so I don’t know whether that’s either desirable or doable, but I thought I’d put it out there. From what I remember from social studies class, it seems like the right thing to do.


  1. KDoug says

    It’s definitely the right thing to do. And I’m no political scientist either, but I’ve heard some say that the reason why Congress won’t police these kinds of things is because they want to be able to do the same thing. They’re thinking ahead to the day when they might become President and they want to give themselves the chance to abuse power.

  2. Artor says

    This would be the same Congress that approved the Patriot Act, right? I would hardly consider that dysfunctional body of partisan hacks to be the last defenders of democracy. It would be desirable and doable, if Congress still functioned as intended, but I think those days are long past.

  3. says

    Are you sure you want to go there? That you want THIS congress to impeach THIS President?

    I’ll agree that Obama’ record on this subject isn’t what he promised in ’08, but would you really want to so derail his chances at re-election that we’d end up with Romney?

    Do you imagine in some overheated moment of imagination that Romney would be any better?

    Let’s wait and see if Obama wins, first of all, then see if that being his second (and last) term helps him to do anything (like appoint more left leaning SCOTUS justices) useful first.

  4. says

    the president still won’t allow Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility

    The problem is that congress isn’t exercising its responsibility at all. So that’s kind of a moot point. They sat by and watched the War Powers act get flushed down the toilet and didn’t even make a muffled meeping noise.

    Ideally, you have 3 branches of government that exist in a tension. But when one of them just becomes a bunch of masterdebaters and the other vastly expands its power while being able to pack the benches on the third, it’s all broken down and needs a reboot. Congress would be the place to start.

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