The United States government is characterized by many unique and distinct features. Aside from being one of the few countries that has a federal form of government, the United States also implements a system of checks and balances known as the separation of powers where the three (3) different bodies, the legislative, the judiciary, and the executive branch, are all considered as co-equals. While in theory there exists no supreme power in the American form of government, it is recognized, however, that the President holds a wide latitude of power that is unequalled by leaders from the other co-equal branches.
The basic powers of the President include the appointment of over six thousand (6,000) federal positions, the appointment of foreign diplomatic officers, the appointment of over one thousand and eight hundred (1,800) staff members, the right to grant executive clemency, and emergency powers. It comes to issue therefore whether or not these powers that are granted to the president are too much or too little. In order to arrive at a better understanding of the issue and to provide an educated opinion on this matter, it is important to first examine these powers that are granted to the president.
In deciding if the presidential powers are too much or too little, one must first define which of these powers are absolute and which of these powers are subject to the system of checks and balances through other co-equal branches of the government. It is important to determine whether or not these powers are truly within the purview of presidential powers or if they are by virtue of some grant by other branches of the government. As to whether or not the powers of the president are absolute, one must examine the system of checks and balances.
Under the law, the president may exercise most, if not all, of the powers that are granted solely to him with unbridled discretion. The only recognized limitations on the powers of the President are those that are set in place by the United States Constitution. One of these limits is the protection of civil rights. The civil rights such as the Bill of Rights or the First ten (10) amendments of the United States Constitution are prime examples of such civil liberties. These are essential in the preservation of the democracy because they act as further checks and balances against the party who is in power.
It prevents the democratic government from being used to oppress the rights of the people. Similarly, it prevents the president from capriciously and whimsically exercising the Presidential powers when it results in the violation of the civil liberties of the general American public. Another power that has to be examined in the light of checks and balances is the power of the president to appoint several key government positions without the ratifications of either congress or senate.
The United States constitution grants the president the full authority to appoint over six thousand (6,000) positions in the federal government and over one thousand and eight hundred (1,800) position on his staff without the concurrence or approval of the Senate. This is on top of the executive officers such as cabinet members that the president may appoint. As such, the power of the president becomes all the more impressive when one considers the fact that the president has the sole authority to appoint these key government positions.
While it is agreed that the power that Senate has to ratify several of these appointments does keep this power in check, it cannot be denied that the power to appoint still rests within the powers of the President. Perhaps the most important power of the president that has led to a lot of controversy in not only the United States but the rest of the world is the power of the President under article 2 section 2 of the United States Constitution with regard to the Commander in Chief of the Army, Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.
Under this provision, the President of the United States of America, as the Commander in Chief of the Army, the Navy and the militia, has the unbridled power to deploy these troops anywhere without the approval of the House of Representatives. It has been argued therefore that this power should be limited because it is simply too much power in the hands of a single person. As argued by several commentators, the provisions that should be changed in article 2 section 2 of the United States Constitution are with regard to the Commander in Chief of the Army, Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States.
The reason for this is that it grants the President unbridled discretion in the deployment of American Troops. The recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan have clearly demonstrated that the power of the United States President to deploy American Troops any way he sees fit is a power that needs to be put in check. The dangers of giving the President such a power clearly overcome the benefits. The provision should be altered to contain a safety clause to ensure that such a power is not abused.
While the President should be allowed to exercise supreme command over the armed forces, this power should only be used in the interests of protecting national security and not for invading foreign countries. Another part of the provision that needs to be amended is the Presidential power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States. Currently, only the President is allowed to grant Reprieves and Pardons. This power is absolute in that once the President has granted such only the President can take it back.
The problem here is that the President is only human and is bound to make mistakes. While it takes a decision from the jury to convict a person, it requires only one person to condone the commission of the crime. An equitable system would give the same jury the chance to grant the pardon or reprieve if they saw fit. This current inequality does not allow for an objective examination of the offender but is instead left to an arbitrary and often politically motivated decision by the President.
An offense against the state is an offense not against the President but against the American people. As such, the pardon or reprieve granted should be done by the same offended, the American people. When the framers of the Constitution were drafting the Supreme Law of the land, it is arguable if they envisioned these powers that the president exercises would have that much influence. Perhaps it was agreed that they President would be more effective with the grant of these powers but as recent experience on the War on Terror shows, there is a need for a reexamination of these powers.
There is a pressing urgency to find new ways by which to keep these powers under check while at the same time granting the president enough power to run the country effectively and protect it from outside threats. While the right to declare war outright is not a presidential imperative and must be ratified by Congress, it does not necessarily mean that such is a power that the president cannot exercise or that the president cannot, through political maneuvering, convince Congress to vote in this favor. The current system of checks and balances can be easily exploited by the president which leads to it being ineffective.
This implies that the power that the president has is virtually unchecked and absolute. As with the power of executive clemency, it has been previously mentioned that the president alone should not have the power to determine the fate of a single person. It must be open to review and while it is recognized that the Judiciary has the power of review over the acts of the other branches of government it is limited by the Constitution to certain fields that it may exercise this power of review over. Based on the provisions of law, it cannot be argued that the president exercises too much power.
In fact, a theoretical analysis of these powers reveals that there is not much power the president can exercise due to the power of veto and review of the other co-equal branches of government. In practice, however, the reality is quite different and the president does have the right to exercise these powers with his full discretion. As such, the power of the president can be considered as being too much in this perspective. The challenge lies in being able to grant the president the powers that he needs to run the government effectively without providing him too much power that may lead to abuse or foreign policy disasters. References:
Davenport, Christian. State Repression and the Domestic Democratic Peace Cambridge University Press (2007) Leonard Leo, James Taranto, and William J. Bennett. Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House. Simon and Schuster, June, 2004, hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 0-7432-5433-3 Lijphart, Arend. Patterns of Democracy. Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries Yale University Press (1999) Peabody, Bruce G. ; Gant, Scott E. (1999). "The Twice and Future President: Constitutional Interstices and the Twenty-Second Amendment". Minnesota Law Review (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Law Review) 83 (565).