Tyranny Yields to Lowly Judge

Americans on both sides of the aisle throw around words like "tyranny" and "fascism" about our system. But there are constant small reminders we are under the rule of law.

Americans on both sides of the aisle throw around words like “tyranny” and “fascism” to describe high-handed actions they don’t like perpetrated by officials of our government.   No doubt, presidents in particular push the envelope, often acting well outside what a plain reading of the Constitution would suggest is the legitimate use of their power.

But it’s worth remembering that we are still, fundamentally, a society of laws.

In the latest mundane example of something that’s really quite remarkable, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a man of whom most Americans have almost certainly never heard, overturned President Obama’s moratorium on drilling in the Gulf. And there’s simply no question whatsoever but that the Leader of the Free World will either comply or appeal to another judge for reconsideration.  None.

President Richard Nixon, who broke all manner of laws and otherwise flouted the Constitution left and right, resigned his office when ordered by the Supreme Court to turn over the Watergate tapes.  Some advisors told him he should simply burn the tapes.   But it simply wouldn’t have been tolerated.

President Bill Clinton was ordered 9-0 by a (mostly) different Supreme Court to submit to humiliating questioning from Paula Jones’ lawyers for a sexual harassment suit over alleged actions that predated his presidency.  He did.   He then lied under oath and was impeached by the House of Representatives.  Had the Senate gotten a few more votes, he’d have doubtless left office without a struggle, much less gunplay.

Clinton’s Vice President, Al Gore, won a plurality of the popular vote in the 2000 presidential elections and likely thinks to this very day that he won in Florida.  In an incredibly controversial 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court (essentially) ordered an end to the circus of a recount in Florida, effectively making George W. Bush president.   No serious thought was given to holding on to the office by force.

George W. Bush made all manner of highly controversial decisions in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, likely breaking some laws and doubtless stretching others beyond recognition.  The matters were all adjudicated in court and the administration complied with the decisions of the courts.

Our system is frustrating and doesn’t always run strictly according to Hoyle.  And I’ll frequently point it out when that’s the case.   But it’s important to remind ourselves occasionally that we’re pretty far from tyranny.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Law and the Courts, Politics 101, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Exactly.

    We have judges.

    We have elections.

    This isn’t the Weimar Republic and people need to stop acting like it is.

  2. sam says:

    We have judges, elections, and a free press:

    Judge who overturned drilling moratorium reported owning stock in drilling companies

    “The federal judge who overturned Barack Obama’s offshore drilling moratorium reported owning stock in numerous companies involved in the offshore oil industry — including Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to BP prior to its April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico — according to 2008 financial disclosure reports.

    “U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman issued a preliminary injunction today barring the enforcement of the president’s proposed six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, arguing that the ban is too broad.

    “According to Feldman’s 2008 financial disclosure form, posted online by Judicial Watch [pdf], the judge owned stock in Transocean, as well as five other companies that are either directly or indirectly involved in the offshore drilling business.”

  3. PD Shaw says:

    sam, sounds like a public disclosure that would have permitted the governement to request a new judge (they had time to do so). And they didn’t.

    My guess: they either thought that this judge would be (relatively) favorably disposed to strong government response, or all of the judges have the same issues.

  4. sam says:

    “all of the judges have the same issues”

    Read somewhere today that most, if not all, the judges in that circuit have stock in the oil biz.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Further clarification: I frankly think the moratorium is very unpopular in Southern Louisiana, hurting the little guy, while the big oil companies make their money elsewhere. A law and order judge might have appeal in that environment.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    And Obama who personally owns huge chunks (far more than $15k) of two Vanguard funds, one of which dumped 1.5 million shares of BP just before the explosion gave $2 billion of OUR money to Petro-Bra, a Brazilian oil company where George Soros invested $1 Billion. Then Obama bans offshore drilling to all US companies. That was okay, right?

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    We are a country of laws rather than men yet men are always testing the limits. The reason many complain of tyranny or threat of tyranny is the incessant push against the established limits. Do we not complain when an administration demands we purchase health insurance? Do we not complain when executive orders could potentially destroy the golf coast oil economy? Do we not complain when the government takes over a huge corporation leaving bondholders out in the cold without due process of law? Each and every step away from the rule of law should be met with our indignation and loud complaints.

    It is only those who point out how slippery of a slope it is to tyranny that keep us from sliding in. It is also the charismatic , narcisistic leader who is more likely to lead us there with a willing populace backing him. Where have we heard “never let a good crisis go to waste”? Our guard should always be up.

    We should also be wary of our local and state governments who are more likely to violate our constitution than any federal authority. Given the chance that city government will search your home illegally (seen it), hold you illegally (seen it), and take your property illegally (seen it). Vigalence will serve us better than complacency.

  8. sam says:

    Dam Steve, that peroration had the rolling cadences of Shylock’s speech. Oh, and yes, you do complain.

    Let me ask you a question re the health insurance thing. The law states that if you do not buy the insurance, then you will pay higher federal taxes than someone who does. Explain to me, as you see it, how this differs from the law that says, if you don’t buy a house, then you’ll pay higher federal taxes than someone who does. Where’s the difference?

  9. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Sam, if someone has to explain the difference to you, you are beyond anything the explanation could convey. Just for starters, there is no federal law mandating the purchasing of a house. If you cannot understand that. You are part of the reason liberalism will be included in DSM VI.

  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    Everyone with a portfolio owns some oil. I owned BP until a few months ago.

    I only sold because I knew the Obama administration would secretly send commandos to blow up the well and then extort 20 billion dollars to funnel through ACORN to his Communist/Muslim pals. You know, the ones who keep his original Kenyan birth certificate in the same cave where they hide Bin Laden.

  11. An Interested Party says:

    Awwww….poor dears like Steve and Zelsdorf should be grateful they have the 2nd Amendment so that they can arm themselves against the tyranny of the charismatic, narcisistic leader who obviously invades their nightmares…well, at least until he decides to take away their guns…hey, maybe their blood will refresh the tree of liberty, or something like that…

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    ****And Obama who personally owns huge chunks (far more than $15k) of two Vanguard funds, one of which dumped 1.5 million shares of BP just before the explosion gave $2 billion of OUR money to Petro-Bra, a Brazilian oil company where George Soros invested $1 Billion. Then Obama bans offshore drilling to all US companies. That was okay, right?****

    Should be on the front page of every rag in the country!

    Even before the explosion and the moratorium, why in the great oily hell would this guy give 2 bil to a company that has 15 bil in yearly profits? A company that’s drills DEEP!

    In the pocket of Big Oil indeed.

    Man you guys really need to watch the greatest investigative reporter the world has ever known once in a while, His name is Glen Beck!

  13. sam says:

    Dear Zelsdorf Moron:

    There’s no federal law mandating that you purchase health insurance, either. The law says, if you don’t purchase the insurance, you will pay higher federal taxes than someone who does. Just like in the case that if you don’t purchase the house, you will pay higher taxes than someone who does. Idiot.

  14. sam says:

    Golly, who’d a thunk it: Zelsdorf, GA, and Glen Beck…a dumbfecta.

  15. G.A.Phillips says:

    ****Aww….poor dears like Steve and Zelsdorf should be grateful they have the 2nd Amendment so that they can arm themselves against the tyranny of the charismatic, narcissistic leader who obviously invades their nightmares…well, at least until he decides to take away their guns…hey, maybe their blood will refresh the tree of liberty, or something like that…****

    Do you think you could think this way without the 2nd Amendment? I love you bro, but you need to check the rational of that kind of a statement….

  16. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***Golly, who’d a thunk it: Zelsdorf, GA, and Glen Beck…a dumbfecta*** lol, im wiling to bet that we are all a lot smater then you, and we ain’t indoctrnated. Gimprad:)

  17. G.A.Phillips says:
  18. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Sam, I guess you are a communist. I will put my IQ which is 143 aganist your double digits anyday. If there is anyone you know who is literate enough to read, have them read the Obama Care act to you. Get someone there who understands words so you will be able to whatever limited degree understand what is being said. If you do not purchase health care insurance, which is a mandate, you will be taxed, or charged. Can’t be a tax, because Obama yo mama promised no taxes on the middle class. So, Sam which is it? A tax or is Obama yo mama a liar? Sam I am not stupid, I am just older, wiser and more experienced than you. Have your reached your majority yet?

  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    ZR3 has a 143 IQ. Ah hah hah hah hah hah!

    Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah!

    Oh, lordy.

    I needed a good laugh.

  20. sam says:

    @Zelsdumpfkopf

    “If you do not purchase health care insurance, which is a mandate, you will be taxed, or charged. ”

    That’s what I said, nitwit.

  21. Jason says:

    Actually the “reduction in taxes” for buying a house is actually an above the line deduction of interest paid. This means that if you aren’t paying enough interest and property taxes to exceed the standard deduction (assuming no other deductions), then you receive no tax benefit from owning a house.

    And quite frankly, the deduction of mortgage interest is probably a case of government over-reach anyway. Basically the federal government tried to incentivize home ownership. This in turn distorted the housing market, and was a small contributing factor towards the housing meltdown.

    We are already starting to see the distortions in the insurance market due to this mandate. People have already started dropping their current insurance because of the “free government insurance”

  22. Steve Plunk says:

    Back to the subject at hand it seems our interior secretary Ken Salazar has decided to reimpose a moratorium with a little more justification and see if that withstands a court challenge. So in effect by doing it again he has kept the moratorium in place since no smart companies will risk starting business again only to see it stopped. Salalzar can just keep laying down new moratoriums until the industry is ruined. Given the government’s unlimited resources versus the limited resources of the private sector guess who wins? Rule of law seems to be crumbling.

    If this is not lifted soon many rigs will head south to Brazil where they will be tied up for years while the gulf coast economies stay depressed for lack of rigs. After all Obama loaned Petrobas and Soros billions of dollars to drill so they need the rigs.

  23. wr says:

    Oh, those poor multinational oil companies and their so-severely limited resources. Funny how the right didn’t care about the “rule of law” when those poor small businesses like BP and Exxon were paying off the regulators with cocaine and hookers to ignore their violations, or worry about the iron boot of government when bought-and-paid-for senators and congressmen were writing laws to shelter oil companies from liability or to give them the nation’s resources for free.

  24. Steve Plunk says:

    Government regulators being bought off easily. That’s certainly not new. It seems a good number of bureaucrats live at the edge of corruption or have already passed it. But that’s not the issue here so trying to redirect the conversation exposes a lack of good arguments on the point.

    The moratorium is bad policy for the United States and especially the gulf states. It lacks sound reasoning and the judge exposed that shortcoming. Now we have administration officials trying to improve their claim rather than accept the reality.

    We need oil, we need jobs, we need consistent policies in order to conduct business. This failed administration isn’t helping on any of those fronts.

  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    Funny how rule of law wasn’t crumbling when the United States was torturing prisoners. Or intercepting the communications of American citizens without a warrant.

    It only started crumbling when the president convinced BP to actually prepare to pay off any legitimate claims. And then it just totally collapsed when we put a belated, temporary halt on a tiny fraction of oil rigs until we could clean out the Bush administration’s corrupt “regulators.”

    You’ve heard the phrase “jock sniffer?” Republicans are “wallet sniffers.” Obsessed with wealth. Billionaires can do no wrong. Wealth=virtue.

    The case will be appealed. It will work its way up the ladder maybe even reaching the Supremes. It will be a long, slow, expensive legal process. Which is apparently just fine for some innocent family fishing business hovering on the edge of bankruptcy, but intolerable fascism for a reckless company worth billions.

    Republican logic: Rich=good, working class=f*ck you.

  26. James Joyner says:

    Michael,

    But the bottom line is that all those matters were either adjudicated in court or could be and that the executive “tyrants” did or doubtless will comply with the outcome.

  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    James:

    Absolutely.

    I’m old enough to remember Watergate while living in DC. (I held a very lowly job at Wilmer, Cutler at the time.) Came away from that very confident in the capacity of the judiciary branch to hold its own.

  28. tfr says:

    We probably all own stock in BP. If you’re in a mutual fund, and practically everyone is, you almost certainly do.

  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    tfr:

    I had some and sold it when I needed cash. Sheer dumb luck, but I’ll take it. Sheer dumb luck is actually my only successful investment policy so far.

  30. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***You’ve heard the phrase “jock sniffer?”***have you ever heard the phrase “have you moved on from sipping kool aid to sniffing glue?

    Harry did you get your big bowl of spinach last night?

    ***I held a very lowly job at Wilmer, Cutler at the time.***It’s hard to believe you that you even know what a job is, and I’m damn sure you don’t understand what one is for.

    Lowly job=something we can’t get with this marxist ideologue in power.

    Man I can’t wait till November.