The Passing of the Constitution

In Memoriam

On our annual celebration of the birth of our once-proud republic, it is also fitting to pause for a nostalgic moment in recalling the celebrated document that created our nation’s freedoms and protections. Remembered with fondness for the two centuries it served us well and made us the envy of the world, its colorful commitment to separation of powers, the rule of law, and due process is still fondly recalled by those who are not too young (or too old) to remember it while it ruled.

The signing on May 9th, 2007, of the “National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive” (with the dual designation of NSPD-51, as a National Security Presidential Directive, and HSPD-20, as a Homeland Security Presidential Directive), now grants dictatorial powers to the Office of the President in the event of a national emergency declared by the president himself.

Whenever the president determines a catastrophic emergency has occurred, he now can take over all government functions and direct all private sector activities to ensure we will emerge from the emergency with an “enduring constitutional government.”

(Ironically, the directive sees no contradiction in the assumption of dictatorial powers by the president with the goal of maintaining “constitutional continuity” through an emergency.)

Translated into layman’s terms, when the president decides that a national emergency has occurred, the president can declare powers usually assumed by dictators to direct any and all government and business activities until the emergency is declared over. The directive loosely defines “catastrophic emergency” as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”

What makes the NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 Directive so distinctive from previous executive orders is that it makes no reference whatsoever to Congress. The language of the May 9th directive appears to negate any requirement that the president submit to Congress a determination that a national emergency exists, suggesting instead that the powers of the executive order can be implemented without any congressional approval or oversight.

Formerly, under the National Emergency Act, the president “may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.”

This Act had previously set up the Congress as a balance empowered to “modify, rescind, or render dormant such delegated emergency authority,” if Congress believed the president acted inappropriately. However, NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 appears to supersede the National Emergency Act by creating the new position of National Continuity Coordinator without any specific act of Congress authorizing the position.

While many will dismiss the evaporation of our traditional freedoms by an overreaching judiciary, a Congress that doesn’t read the bills they sign, and now, a self-appointed Czar for emergencies, as simply characteristic of the times. It is reassuring that we no longer will suffer the delays and frustrations of Congressional oversight to get in the way of the new Executive Branch.

Apparently, we are now ready for an Al-Qaeda nuclear event, an EMP attack on our infrastructure, the collapse of our currency during a monetary crisis brought on by excessive debt, or even a Reichstag Fire. We certainly are now getting well prepared for some exciting times ahead. Stay tuned. Film at eleven.