Our nation is based on the separation of powers. One branch writes the rules, a second branch enforces them, and the third branch referees that enforcement. When one branch encroaches on another, disaster is not far behind.
The most common breakdown is the encroachment of the Executive on the Legislative or Judicial branches. The unitary power of King George was what brought on the American Revolution, so safeguards were written into the Constitution to limit Executive branch power. And yet presidents have repeatedly exceeded their powers, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Nixon was the classic case. Nixon bypassed courts to do illegal searches and seizures, used information obtained by illegal wiretaps as well as the power of the IRS for political purposes, and so on. If you felt that Democrats rather than the Soviets were America's enemies during the Cold War, it made a lot of sense.
The current case of NSA wiretapping falls into the same category of Executive branch overreach. Bush bypasses the Judiciary (i.e., the FISA court) to decide who gets wiretapped. Other branches can and do intrude into one another's business. Since they lack an army, this doesn't happen very often. The Supreme Court behaved outrageously when it came to the New Deal and FDR responded in kind. Sometimes the intrusions are recognized retrospectively as desirable, as when the Supreme Court intruded into Legislative and Executive branch prerogatives to help bring down institutionalized racism and end state meddling with the sale of contraceptives.
More typical of intrusions was the long (and continuing) campaign to impeach Bill Clinton, in which conservatives in the courts and in Congress tried to overrule the clear will of the American people. This overreach weakened the president's Commander in Chief powers at a time when a gang of thugs called Al Qaida had declared war on the United States (not that we needed to declare war back).
The actions of the Capitol Police in regard to Cynthia McKinney are worrisome. The most serious step that a law enforcement agency can take is the arrest or indictment of a Senator or Congressman, effectively denying that district of representation. As we recall, No Taxation Without Representation was a rallying cry for revolution for our nation's independence. Now, of course it happens. Duke Cunningham was accepting huge bribes and presumably would have continued to do so had he not been arrested. Tom DeLay broke Texas's only law to try to prevent corruption, a prohibition against accepting corporate contributions. The people of Texas have a right to decide whether his district should find another representative. And yet he is free and continuing to represent the district pending the outcome of his case. He's likely to be re-elected and, I suppose, might continue to vote on legislation from jail.
The point is that great deference is given to representatives of the people. In the case of Cynthia McKinney, she is accused of striking a police officer, certainly a serious offense. On the other hand, the more one hears, the stranger it all sounds.
Capitol Police request arrest warrant for Georgia congresswoman blares the headline from CNN
. But the Capitol Police won't state what charge they want the US attorney to file. McKinney says that the officer touched her "inappropriately" and says that being unreasonably detained as she goes about her business has happened many times before. Her website has a clip from a film, American Blackout
, showing her being stopped at the gates by an officer who asks "Who are you with?" as if she were not a Congresswoman who has walked in those same gates something like 2,000 times. In a vicious article by Chris Sueellentrop
, we learn that in fact she has been inappropriately stopped and badly treated before by the Capitol Police.
Cynthia McKinney is certainly a Republican target. She has been treated as no Congressperson I know of has ever been treated. She may have hit a police officer (although even there, the descriptions range from scuffle to slap to slugged.)
Who is behaving wrongfully here?
Can we choose one from column A and one from column B?
And most important, can we have the facts before a representative of the people is driven from office by what could just be a political dirty trick?
Update: I want to thank Tom DeLay for stepping down, even if as RedState claimed, it was because of district renegrification
. DeLay was a walking symbol of the arrogant impunity with which the Republican Party has looted the Treasury, ravaged the environment, and sent good men to die for their personal aggrandizement. By stepping down, he has at least shown his colleagues that they may not be beyond retribution themselves. It's well short of a call to repentance, but it may have cleared their noses to smell the brimstone.