Watching Keith [Olbermann] just now, I heard him mention Antonin “Nino” Scalia’s dissenting opinion from today’s ruling in regards habeas corpus rights for detainees.
The lowlight of Justice Scalia’s opinion was the paragraph:
“The game of bait-and-switch that todayâ€™s opinion plays upon the Nationâ€™s Commander in Chief will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.”
While others will surely spend countless hours and buckets of ink and pixels debating the merits or madness of the second sentence, I’ve a bone to pick with the first.
Scalia has, over the years, demonstrated a profound lack of understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court. His devotion to the concept of “originalism” selectively ignores the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, key components of the document as “originally” ratified. The codicil to the majority opinion in Bush v. Gore, in which the nation’s ultimate appeals court, where all legal precedent is finally decided, declares that the judgment in that case is not, in fact, legal precedent.
I have come to expect little in the way of Constitutional wisdom from Justice Scalia.
But he is not alone in the delusion he propounds in the first sentence of today’s killer graf. Nearly every candidate, commentator and speechifier will, at convenient times, refer to the President of the United States as “the nation’s commander-in-chief” or “our commander-in-chief.”
Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution begins:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States
This is a very specific delineation. When broad powers are claimed for the President, many rightly so, in his role as “commander-in-chief,” these broad powers do not automatically apply to those persons not in the armed forces of the United States. Where they exist at all, they apply to the men and women of the uniformed services of the Army and Navy, the state Guards and other armed services.
The president not only is impotent to hold me without allowing me to demand the charges against me, he is impotent to search or seize my person, goods and papers without a warrant showing probable cause. He is enjoined from quartering his armed troops on my property.
In point of fact, the president of the United States cannot do a damned thing to me that the Constitution does not specifically allow him to do. And this limitation to his powers, embodied in the purposefully broad Tenth Amendment, holds because I am not a member of the armed forces.
In short, the president is not my commander-in-chief. Odds are, he is not yours, either. He is not Antonin Scalia’s commander in chief, not Hillary Clinton’s nor Chris Matthews’.
For us, the citizens of and visitors to the United States, he is the Chief Executive, pledged to take care that the laws of the United States are faithfully executed. He is not our commander. He is our servant.
I hope I’ve not made too much of a much here, but this anointing of the Chief Executive with unlimited powers over all citizens, like some ancient Imperator can’t be reversed solely by Court decisions. It must be dismantled in the minds of us, the citizens.
And refusing to accept the rule of a commander when you don’t wear the uniform is a reasonable place to start.