Monday, March 06, 2006

“Presidential Infallibility”


Washington, March 7 –

In a straight party-line vote, the Senate last night passed “The Presidential Infallibility Act,” which reads simply, “The president cannot make a mistake when speaking ex officio [from the Oval Office].” The bill was made retroactive to the beginning of President Bush’s first term. Identical legislation had already passed in the House by a comfortable margin, and the president is expected to sign the bill early today.

Despite the act’s brevity, legal scholars suggest that it may have important constitutional implications. Leon Rowland, dean of the law school at Marshall University, points out that “If the president is infallible, and the legislative and judicial branches remain burdened with human error, they’re obviously not co-equal. The theory of checks and balances goes out the window. Among other things, with this act, Congress has effectively relinquished its power to override a presidential veto.”

Daniel Workman, a constitutional scholar at West Virginia University’s law school, argues, however, that “Given the current state of American government, this law will have little practical effect. It’s fundamentally undemocratic, but then so are holding prisoners without charge, torturing captives, conducting secret free-ranging electronic surveillance, and initiating war on the basis of phony charges.”

“With all three branches of government not only in the hands of a single party, but also under tight party discipline,” says Workman, “there’s nobody left to say ‘no’ to the president. Neither the Congress nor the judiciary—nor even, for that matter, the press—has shown any interest in imposing restraints on his power. Even if he’s not right, there’s nobody to say he’s wrong.”

The act was supported by a legal brief, prepared by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, contending that the bill is simply an acknowledgement of the President’s inherent authority as Commander-in-Chief. The brief provides a detailed historical summary which begins with the divine right of kings, continues through the doctrine of papal infallibility, and concludes with a survey of the explosive growth of executive power in the current administration.

Gonzales previously has argued that the president may ignore the Geneva Conventions. He has also produced memos justifying the torture of U.S. prisoners, and has told Congress that the administration can wiretap without consulting the courts and in violation of federal law. He is considered a leading candidate for the next vacancy on the Supreme Court. Mr. Bush rejects judicial activism, and has repeatedly stated that he will only nominate candidates who are strict constructionists in adhering to the Constitution.

Senate leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn), who led the campaign for the bill’s enactment, hailed its passage. “This provides the definitive explanation for why President Bush was unable a few months ago to recall a single mistake he had made while in office. He has been acting infallibly; it just took us a while to formally recognize that fact.”

Republican leaders noted that the bill resolves such thorny issues as the invasion of Iraq on the basis of its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. “It got to be embarrassing trying to maintain an obvious fiction,” said Mississippi’s Sen. Trent Lott. “It’s a relief to be able to put all of that behind us.”

Since the text makes no reference to the current president by name, it is unclear whether it applies simply to Mr. Bush, so long as he remains in office, or whether all presidents, from this point forward, will enjoy the privilege of being all right, all the time. Sen. Frist, acknowledging the ambiguity, said, “We’ll just have to see how the next election goes, if we have one, and then play it by ear.”

Although the bill is silent about its theological underpinnings, fundamentalist Christians nationwide were openly jubilant that, as the Rev. Jerry Falwell put it, “Congress finally recognized that God has put His hand on this nation and this president in a very special way.” He did not specify where God has placed His hand.

© Tony Russell, 2006

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