News your connection to The Boston Globe

Limits for Bush

AMERICA HAS always thought of itself as a nation of laws and not men, but that comforting assumption is under challenge from President George W. Bush. In a series of recent reversals, Bush has been forced to back off of several of his key initiatives in both foreign and domestic arenas because they violated the US Constitution, federal law, or international agreements. The pattern is even more troubling than the individual cases, suggesting a belligerent disregard for the law until brave judges call the administration to account.


Just last week, a Bush plan to allow polluting power companies to make major changes to their plants without making them cleaner was halted by a three-judge panel of the federal Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. Bush's Environmental Protection Agency was about to gift the industry with a regulation retreat so great it violates the Clean Air Act.

The week before, the federal Appeals Court in New York ruled that the administration had denied basic rights to US citizen Jose Padilla by detaining him as an enemy combatant without specific charge.

At nearly the same time, the federal Appeals Court in San Francisco scolded Bush for holding some 650 people at Guantanamo Bay indefinitely without trial as undemocratic and likely a violation of international law.

Earlier, another federal judge overturned Interior Department plans to open Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks to hundreds of snowmobilers, saying the move would violate the "primary mandates, regulations, and policies of the National Park Service."

These cases followed shortly after Bush finally surrendered to national and international pressure by rescinding steel import tariffs that were clearly a violation of international trade agreements from the start, and never should have been implemented.

So in the month of December alone, Bush was rebuffed by three separate federal appeals courts, another federal judge, and the World Trade Organization.

Unfortunately, these cases are not isolated. Potentially unconstitutional infringements on individual rights were pursued by John Poindexter when he was in the Pentagon, and others are still being advanced by Attorney General John Ashcroft under the Patriot Act.

The San Francisco Appeals Court said it well: "It is the obligation of the judicial branch to ensure the preservation of our constitutional values and to prevent the executive branch from running roughshod over the rights of citizens and aliens alike."

Bush, like any president, should uphold the law and not advance vigilante policies that attempt to get away with as much as they can before being caught.

The second lesson for Americans is to treasure and support an independent judiciary that will uphold fundamental rights.

Globe Archives
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months