As my final piece deconstructing the Executive branch of our Democratic-Republic, I believe this to be the most scathing, and the most damaging to its image.
One of the more interesting aspects of our government is what happens when they get something wrong. A bad decision (Judicial), bad execution (Executive), or a bad law (Legislative). Our system of government includes measures for correcting errors that we as society identify. However, there is a huge imbalance, which I’ll reveal in a bit.
First, let’s start with the Judicial. Historically, the case that is referenced when the Supreme Court “got it horribly wrong”, was Dred Scott vs Sanford. This case ruled that black men did not have any rights as a citizen, and in particular no right to sue at the Federal level.
Fortunately, such a decision was undone. The Supreme Court’s position is to interpret laws as they relate to the Constitution, so the most obvious and most direct way to force them to interpret it differently is to pass an Amendment to the Constitution. The 13th, 14th, and 15th (three!) Amendments had to be incorporated to completely undo the damage by that ruling, as well as the entrenched interests of the Aristocratic Master Class.
What about the Legislative? There are far too many for me to list, but this website does a great job summarizing some of the worst with regards to personal liberties, Congress’ 10 Worst Infringements on Personal Liberty. Now, most of these are easy to undo. Being a matter of public record, its simple to create new laws to more or less repeal or undo bad ones. One of the more interesting standouts in this list is the 18th Amendment, which bans the production, sale, and transport of alcohol. This one required another Amendment, the 21st, to undo.
What about the Executive? The Executive doesn’t really interpret the Constitution, but does sometimes need some flexibility “to do its job”, though its own interpretations are subject to review. Most frustratingly, its actions aren’t always public. Look at the CIA, Homeland Security, or the DoD. Look at how Police arrest people. Look at how jails are run. Look at how War is conducted.
This is the biggest difference between the Legislative and Judicial against the Executive. The Judicial has to make all its decisions broadly public to everyone, because their decisions affect everyone at a Constitutional level. Congress, while it can pass enormous bills to obscure what was passed, do still have to make their laws public because, again, the general public has to be aware and the Executive has to Execute them. While many processes within these two branches may be private, their outcomes are public.
One can argue that a lot of what the Executive does is public, but it isn’t public in the same way. The Executive’s most public displays are Executive Actions and Orders, which are pretty interesting in their own right, but are not the majority of what the Executive does.
No, the majority of what the Executive does is the Institutions and Organizations that are created to carry out the very laws Congress wrote, and the Judicial interpreted. And this is the enormous difference between them. From here on out, nearly all interactions the Executive has are personal, intimate things. The biggest examples of the Executive “getting it wrong” would be Watergate, or its incredibly broad and overreaching interpretation of the Patriot Act, or any number of police misconduct that ended in someone’s life erronsouly being taken away (numerous stories about this). Civil Forfeiture being one of the most corrupt pieces of law twisted by the Executive. Or STINGRAY, which illegally tracks people by pretending to be a cell-phone tower, various wars, or any number of other things (too many to list). And citizens everywhere are near invisibly impacted by such a privately-public injustice.
This is the biggest difference. The Executive requires far more checks and balances by citizens, and at times is far more than citizens are able to do. In many cases, not even the Judicial can rightly check the powers of police because they keep their methods purposefully secret, fearing having their “powers” taken away.
By far, the most dangerous branch of government to leave unchecked is the Executive, and its easy to do so. The Executive can bury you, it can ruin your life, and it can do so in this legally-gray way and with minimal to no independent oversight.
This can be argued as a natural consequence of any implementation of the Executive branch. But it is important to highlight how quickly this branch can turn to tyranny. Its important to realize exactly who is being elected to these positions, what their powers actually are (which isn’t super-Legislators, like nearly all Presidential hopefuls pretend to be).
Beware the Popular Tyrant; its not just a “theoretical” consequence of Political Science, it is a real, modern day consequence of the current Democratic-Republic we participate in.
More in This SeriesDecontructing the Executive Branch
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