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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, September 11, 2006

John Yoo summarizes the last 5 years in two short sentences

Bob Egelko has an interesting article in The San Francisco Chronicle today examining how U.S. law has changed over the last five years as a result of the 9/11 attack. He includes this truly revealing quote from John Yoo:

UC Berkeley law Professor John Yoo, who as a Justice Department lawyer was one of the Bush administration's chief legal theorists, summarized its view in his forthcoming book, "War by Other Means":

"We are used to a peacetime system in which Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them, and the courts interpret them. In wartime, the gravity shifts to the executive branch.''

Actually, I'm pretty sure that it's always the case in America (or at least it used to be) that "Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them, and the courts interpret them." That's pretty fundamental to how our country works. In fact, the whole structure of the Constitution is based on that system -- not just the "Peacetime Constitution" we have, but the actual Constitution itself.

The Constitution is actually pretty clear on that score. Article I says "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States" -- Article II says the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" -- Article III says "the judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in . . . inferior Courts." That arrangement isn't really a side detail or something that shifts based on circumstance. It's pretty fundamental to the whole system. In fact, if you change that formula, it isn't really the American system of government anymore.

Someone who says that it's only sometimes true in America that "Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them, and the courts interpret them" is someone who doesn't understand how the country works. There is really no other way to put it. But Yoo -- as he candidly admits -- doesn't think that's how it should work, and, thanks in no small part to him, that isn't how it has been working ever since 9/11. To use Yoo's formulation, if we were to simply return to a "system in which Congress enacts the laws, the president enforces them, and the courts interpret them," that would go a long way to alleviating many of this country's most pressing political problems.

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