Thursday, January 12, 2006
Consortium News, Jan 12:
The "unitary" theory of presidential power sounds too wonkish for Americans to care about, but the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court could push this radical notion of almost unlimited Executive authority close to becoming a reality.
Justice Alito, as a longtime advocate of the theory, would put the Court's right-wing faction on the verge of having a majority committed to embracing this constitutional argument that would strip regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, of their independence.
If that happens, George W. Bush and his successors would have the power to instruct these agencies what to do on regulations and enforcement, opening up new opportunities to punish enemies and reward friends. The "unitary" theory asserts that all executive authority must be in the President's hands, without exception.
The Supreme Court's embrace of the "unitary executive" would sound the death knell for independent regulatory agencies as they have existed since the Great Depression, when they were structured with shared control between the Congress and the President. Putting the agencies under the President's thumb would tip the balance of Washington power to the White House and invite abuses by letting the Executive turn on and off enforcement investigations.
For instance, if the "unitary executive" had existed in 2001, Bush might have been tempted to halt the SEC accounting investigation that spelled doom for Enron Corp. and his major financial backer, Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay. As it was, the relative independence of the SEC ensured that the accounting probe went forward and the fraudulent schemes propping up the Houston-based company were exposed.
Direct presidential control of the FCC would give Bush and his subordinates the power to grant and revoke broadcast licenses without the constraints that frustrated Richard Nixon's attempts to punish the Washington Post company for its Watergate reporting. Bush also would be free to order communication policies bent in ways that would help his media allies and undermine his critics. ...