I received a snail-mail solicitation yesterday from Senator Robert Byrd’s re-election committee, Friends of Robert C. Byrd. As an elder statesman and one of those Democrats from a state which you’d expect to be red, I’d normally send him a couple of bucks. After all, he’s the guy who carries his copy of the Constitution in his pocket and can cite from it like some lawmakers [think they] can cite the Bible. His solicitation sounds good, and there’s this quote underneath a picture of him holding up his pocket Constitution:
I make only one promise – the same one I swore before my God and my country nearly half a century ago: To preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Of course, Senator Byrd can be excused a slight lapse in memory due to his advanced age, but, if he is re-elected, he’ll be reminded that the oath he quotes here is actually from the oath of office taken by the President and mandated in Article II of the Constitution. The oath taken by Senators is:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
Nonetheless, he is sworn to defend the Constitution. And as he says in his solicitation letter: “Nowhere in that oath did it say that I had to give my automatic or obedient approval to any nominee whom the President of the United States nominated for a place on the federal bench.” Strong words and absolutely true. That’s what Senator Byrd is known for. He continues on in his letter:
More recently, the Senate has been all but paralyzed by the belief that it should rubber stamp Presidential nominations, even lifetime appointments to the judiciary.
“Advice and consent” are the Constitution’s words. The White House seems to think that means “roll over and obey.” At the mere suggestion of resistance, the Republican Party has tried to shred the traditions of the Senate and suppress free debate.
He’s dead on. Except, that it is deeds, not words that show a man’s true character. For all his strong talk of resistance, of defending the Constitution, of being “the conscience of the Senate“, Senator Byrd is about to betray everything he is asking me for money to defend.
See, barring an ever more unlikely filibuster by the Senate Democrats, on Tuesday, January 31, 2006–just in time for the President’s State of the Union address that evening–the Senate will vote on the confirmation of Samuel J. Alito to the United States Supreme Court. Samuel Alito, with his radical right, out-of-the-mainstream views on everything from church/state separation, privacy rights, and reproductive rights, to environmental protections, gay rights and civil rights, will work hard to enact the complete radical conservative makeover of the United States into a nation our founding fathers would not recognize.
Perhaps most dangerously, Alito is a supporter of the “unitary” executive theory of government, which claims (here, greatly simplified) that the President is the Executive Branch of government, and therefore, as a co-equal branch, neither Congress nor the Judiciary can dictate how the Executive operates. This is not at all what the Founders had in mind. As James Madison writes in The Federalist Papers, No. 47:
No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty, than that on which the objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.
In light of that theory, Alito’s record and the potential danger to the future of our consitutional government at stake, you would be certain that such a lion of democracy, such a true believer in the truth of the US Consitution as Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, senior member of the US Senate, would be adamantly opposed to the nomination of Samuel Alito. You’d be wrong.
Sen. Robert Byrd broke with a majority of his fellow Democrats Thursday to say he will vote for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.
Byrd said he believed Alito is an honorable man with a sharp legal mind who will follow the U.S. Constitution and keep presidential power in check. Other Democrats have said they don’t think Alito is independent enough to rule against the Bush administration.
At 88 years old, Byrd may not live long enough to see the consequences of his support of Alito and the subsequent dismantling of the Constitution he claims to love, but those of us with a lot more life ahead of us will be living in that world. Senator Byrd’s career started off ignominiously, but with his principled stand against all aspects of the Iraq war, he seemed to redeem himself in many eyes. With his decision to “roll over and obey”, he has re-acquired all his shame. If he is defeated in the fall elections, it probably won’t make any difference anyway, since his beloved Senate will soon be rendered superfluous in the newly made dictatorship he will have helped cement in place. Nice legacy, Bob. And, when it comes to soliciting me: save your stamps.