Checks, balances ensure our rights will be preserved

October 01, 2002|By Richard Coduri

WASHINGTON -- There are times when I am in awe of the practical genius of James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution.

The system of checks and balances outlined in that document has been a stabilizing force in some of our nation's most trying times, now no less than in our past.

For months I have watched with growing concern as the Bush administration has tried to -- and many cases succeeded in -- dismantling some of the most fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The administration is scrambling to find ways to overcome our country's lack of a viable security infrastructure before another terrorist attack can occur.

In doing this, it has begun to undermine the very ideals that it seeks to preserve. This does not excuse the administration's heavy-handed rhetoric, the seemingly discriminatory policies that single out Arabs and Muslims for detainment, or the unlawful incarceration of American citizens without benefit of charges or trial.

Since Sept. 11, two of the three branches of our government, the executive and the legislative, have been ignoring the entrenched deliberateness so carefully crafted by the framers of the Constitution.

As commander in chief, the president is charged with the responsibility of protecting the United States from foreign and internal threats.

Last September, a gaping hole in our defense layer was violently exposed, and the administration has been doing all within its power, and then some, to try to plug it.

Congress, perhaps against its own better judgment, has for the most part gone along with the president and the administration.

Given the emotionally charged atmosphere of the last year, it has been extremely difficult politically for an elected official to express views counter to the president's on issues of homeland security. In many quarters, to do so would be to invite the label of "un-American," electoral suicide for most members of Congress. It is because of this combination of a frenzied need for action and a fear to show cracks in American solidarity that the current distortion of civil liberties has been created.

This is where Madison's system really shines. In the last several weeks, the judicial branch of our government has stepped in to check the overreaching of the executive branch and the reluctant compliance of the legislative branch.

Two courts, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, have strongly condemned the executive branch's abuses of power. There is no telling what the Supreme Court will do with these issues, but I remain hopeful. Do not mistake my optimism for a lack of vigilance.

The current administration has threatened some of our most fundamental rights, for which it should be held accountable. But I feel secure in the knowledge that Madison's checks and balances will in the end steady our flailing national ship.

Richard Coduri, a resident of Washington, has worked for several public policy institutions.

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