by Whitney Pitcher
In an election year when there is a presidential election in addition to Congressional and statewide races, the presidential election often takes center stage. In some respects, this is understandable. The president comprises the head of one of the three branches of our constitutional republic.However, the focus on the presidency is indicative of a government whose balance of power has gotten out of whack. For starters, we have crept away from our Constitutional foundation where the federal government’s power is limited, and the states’ power is appropriate. Even in our federal government, the scales of power have been tipped. Congress has willingly abdicated its legislative powers to unelected executive branch agencies who legislate under the guise of regulation. Couple the extensive powers of agencies and departments like the EPA, Department of Energy, Department of Homeland Security with the increasing frequency of executive orders in the last 100+ years, it is clear that the branches of government have been twisted. Additionally, with each Supreme Court decision, judicial precedence becomes the new guiding force rather than the true precedence–the Constitution.
One of the reasons our Founders created this three branch system of government was to provide a check and balance, not only to provide a check to each branch’s adherence to the Constitution or ideology, but also to each branch’s power. The election later this year has the potential to re-elect an extremely progressive president or elect an unprincipled “Republican”. This election year also will indicate whether we maintain a GOP House or flip it, Somewhat lost in the shuffle is that this election year also determines whether or not Republicans regain control of the Senate or at least pick up some seats. Regardless of who is elected President, there are several reasons why the Senate is especially crucial, as the Constitution has given Senators different powers or responsibilities than their counterparts in the House.
One of the responsibilities that the Senate specifically has is the ratification of treaties. In late 2010, we saw a Democratic majority Senate (with a good deal of moderate Republicans joining in) ratify the START treaty . This treaty with Russia was rushed through by America, only to have the Russians sit on the treaty before ratifying it themselves. With President Obama recently noting to Russian President Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility after the election”, this would prove to be a motivator for conservatives if Obama were to be re-elected. A strong conservative Senate would be crucial in preventing the President from entering into more treaties that may not be in America’s best interest, nor in the interest of an ally like Poland. Between President Obama scrapping a missile defense program in Poland on the 70th anniversary of Soviet invasion of Poland and his gaffes in discussing “flexibility” with the Russian President and in referring to Nazi death camps as Polish death camps, it would be important to have a Senate who would stand with America’s allies and not aim to weaken our country. In the same vein, discussion has opened up again recently over the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) in the Senate. If this treaty were to be ratified, it would require that America pay royalties ,which would be distributed to poor underdeveloped countries, on energy development done in certain arctic regions. This would abdicate American sovereignty by implementing a global redistribution of wealth from energy production on what are really American seas. This is in addition to the limits on sea travel and naval activity. If this is ultimately not voted upon during this session, a conservative Senate would be a big deterrent in its ratification regardless of whether Obama’s Secretary of State were to push for the treaty again or if a Romney administration were to advocate for its approval.
Another important responsibility given to the Senate is the approval of judicial and cabinet appointments. A strong conservative Senate would help keep President Obama in check when he attempts to appoint a new Secretary of State, if he is re-elected. Current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, although quite liberal, was palatable enough to be confirmed by the Senate in 2009. However, she has opted not to serve in Obama’s second term if he is re-elected. A conservative Senate would ideally help ensure that President Obama would appoint a more palatable liberal, rather than one who is a radical. We saw earlier in his term when President Obama attempted to appoint radical Donald Berwick to head Medicare, the blowback from Republicans and conservatives was strong enough to prompt President Obama to appoint Berwick during a Senate recess. Berwick later resigned from his post. This check and balance would be even more pronounced if the Senate were to not only become more Republican, but more conservative as well. Additionally and probably most importantly, a strong conservative is needed when a new Supreme Court nominee is appointed. There is the potential for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg to retire. Would a President Obama appoint another justice to perpetuate judicial activism for even longer in that seat? Additionally, there is potential that if a Republican were to win, Justices Roberts and Scalia would retire in order for more justices to be appointed by a Republican president. For the most part, with the blocked appointment of Robert Bork being a notable exception, the Senate confirms the President’s nominees to the bench. However, would Senate confirmation hearings of Obama’s appointees be more rigorous with a conservative Senate, or would they be bold enough to block a radical appointee? On the flip side, would a conservative Senate hold a Romney administration accountable in appointing a true originalist judges to the bench, even in spite of his poor record of judicial appointments as governor? Romney often blames Democratic control in Massachusetts as a source of his failings. Would a conservative Senate hold him accountable to make wise decisions? Not only in potential judicial appointees, but also in his own cabinet, as again, he did a poor job with some other appointees as governor and even to date as the presumed GOP nominee.It is important that the Senate provides a conservative and constitutional check to whomever is elected President in November.
Suffice it to say, the 33 Senate seats up for grabs this November are extremely important, not only in working with their bicameral buddies in the House, but also in providing a much needed check to whomever occupies the White House and whomever may be placed on the judicial bench. In order to slowly but surely try to bring our nation back to its true Constitutional foundation, we must ensure that principled conservatives are elected in 2012. Most conservatives are disenchanted by our presidential prospects, but we have every reason to be inspired by the foundational principles found in our Constitution. We must remember, though, as the father of our Constitution, James Madison, once noted, “if men were angels, no government would be necessary”. Men are not angels, and yet another blessing of our republic is that we get to elect our leaders from amongst our fallible selves. It is inherent in our human nature that our leaders will be flawed.Therefore, it is important for us to elect from among the flawed human candidates out there those who have the best grasp of our Constitution so that they may exercise those powers and responsibilities that they swear an oath to uphold to the best of their abilities. Let’s remind our leaders that the Constitution still begins with “We the People”, and let’s ensure we have a Senate that lives that message out in their leadership.