Conyers Issues Report on 'Imperial Presidency'

Rep. John ConyersOn Tuesday, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) published a 487-page report entitled, “Reining in the Imperial Presidency: Lessons and Recommendations Relating to the presidency of George W. Bush.”

The tone of the report is perhaps best exemplified by its definition of the term “Imperial Presidency”:

“Imperial Presidency” is a term used to embody a fervently held anti-democratic belief system, rooted in a constitutionally unsupportable view of the president’s power vis-à-vis the Congress, the courts, and the people of the United States.

The report’s foreword, authored by Rep. Conyers, contains a scathing attack on the Bush Administration’s view of executive authority:

The Bush Administration’s approach to power is, at its core, little more than a restatement of Mr. Nixon’s famous rationalization of presidential misdeeds: “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Under this view, laws that forbid torturing or degrading prisoners cannot constrain the president because, if the president ordered such acts as Commander in Chief, “that means it’s not illegal.” Under this view, it is not the courts that decide the reach of the law – it is the president – and neither the judiciary nor Congress can constrain him.

The report itself contains 47 policy recommendations to the Obama Administration and Congress, and comes just one week after Rep. Conyers unveiled a bill, H.R. 104, that would create a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties. The second of the report’s 47 policy recommendations is creation of just such a commission.

Other recommendations include a suggestion that the President “nominate and bring into operation the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.” The initial Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board was created by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, and was made part of the White House. Under a 2007 law implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, the Board was made an independent agency within the executive branch. Its mandate was to:

(1) analyze and review actions the executive branch takes to protect the Nation from terrorism, ensuring that the need for such actions is balanced with the need to protect privacy and civil liberties; and

(2) ensure that liberty concerns are appropriately considered in the development and implementation of laws, regulations, and policies related to efforts to protect the Nation against terrorism.

Although President Bush signed the legislation on August 3, 2007, he failed to nominate a full slate of members to the Board, and the Senate has taken no action to confirm any members. The Board has therefore never operated in its current form.

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