Restoring the Constitution (12/23/2007)

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is among a group of people in Congress who understand the key to reviving the Constitution is for the legislative branch to reassert its authority and prerogatives, writes David Adler.

In this season of birth, renewal and restoration, we may yet nurture hope that the Constitution, so abused and manipulated, when not ignored by the Bush administration, may be restored to its proper role and place in American. The subjugation of the Constitution to base politics, deliberate obfuscation and concerns ginned up to rally a nation to engage in a wholly unnecessary war in Iraq, finds resistance in citizens and elected officials who are mindful of John Adams’ sage reminder that a “frequent recurrence to fundamental principles” is indispensable to the maintenance of constitutional government.

Congressman Mike Simpson is among those who rightly voice lament for the loss of constitutional balance between the president and the Congress, a development that has undermined constitutional values and republican principles. In a speech to The City Club of Idaho Falls, Simpson expressed regret that Congress has ceded its constitutional powers to the “administrative branch,” particularly in the area of foreign affairs and national security. Simpson called upon Congress to reclaim its rightful role in those critical areas. He reminded an attentive audience that Congress is an “independent” body that does not answer to the president.

To be clear, Simpson was not picking on President George W. Bush. He was pointing out, rather, that the “presidency” as an institution has become too powerful while under the control of both Republicans and Democrats. Members must rise to the defense of their own institution.

Simpson, a popular Republican in his fifth term in the House, is respected by non-Republicans for his thoughtful, open-minded approach to many of the pressing issues of our time. That’s not to say that Democrats will cease efforts to unseat him. But he is to be credited for his refreshing candor on an issue of great moment: presidential aggrandizement of powers granted by the Constitution to Congress.

He may not yet be in the league of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., as a staunch institutionalist, but his defense of Congress and its constitutional powers and duties, sets him apart from many Republican colleagues — in and out of Idaho — who march in lockstep with the president.

If the Constitution is to be restored, and the presidency returned to its constitutional status, the nation will need more representatives such as Simpson, willing to set aside partisan affiliation and party loyalty to defend the constitutional position of Congress. That may come with a price, of course, but Simpson is strong and more than able to hold his ground. Simpson surely will face difficult choices and tough votes, but he will have the opportunity to make his mark as a defender of the Constitution. In the scheme of things, that’s not a bad legacy.

Adler is a political science professor at Idaho State University who has written and lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution and presidential power.