Thursday, October 9, 2008

Do the VP Candidates Know What the VP Does?

For that matter, do you? It seems pretty clear that neither Mrs. Palin nor Mr. Biden are aware of the duties of their perspective office. In the VP debate, Mrs. Palin said “I’m thankful that the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exercise it in working with the Senate.” Not to be outdone, Mr. Biden posited that "Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the Vice President of the United States, that’s the Executive Branch. He works in the Executive Branch. He should understand that.” Ah, politicians. I'm actually more inclined to let Biden off the hook because his comment COULD be considered a slip of the tongue. After all, Article I defines the Legislative branch, not the Executive branch - but it does mention the VP in Section 3. Article I, Section 3 states that "The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided." This is the language that Dick Cheney grounds his argument upon. (Cheney's argument, in case you were unaware, is that the VP is actually a member of both the Executive and Legislative branches of the US Government). Palin's statement is a little more frightening because it seems that she has simply adopted the Cheney stance without having ever really looked at the Constitution. Because, honestly, that's ALL it says about the VP in Article I. That, to me, is not much to hang your hat on if you're arguing that the VP is a legislative officer.

The key problem with arguing for some sort of VP duality is that it violates a fundamental principle that underscores our Constitution , namely, the separation of powers. Cheney's hypothetical VP would be a governmental anomaly. There is no other instance where a single figure could be accurately described as a member of more than one branch of the government - unless you want to argue that the Chief Justice is part of the Executive branch because he swears in the President, but good luck with that one.

The problem, of course, is that the VP's duties aren't actually outlined ANYWHERE in the Constitution. It is clear that much of what the Framers had to say about the VP is found in Article II - and thus we've traditionally defined the role as being executive. Furthermore, it simply makes sense to label the VP an executive because of the hand-in-hand nature of the VP's actions with the President. Clearly, the two are meant to work together. Compare that relationship to Congress or the Supreme Court, where you'll find much disagreement and a fight for supremacy. It would not make sense to allow the Chief Executive Officer's best ally to also be a crucial figure in another branch!

Finally, some scholars who argue contra Cheney point out that in Amendment's 20 and 25, the succession order to the Presidency is laid out in such a way that it makes clear that the VP is an executive. He is next in line for the throne.

So why does any of this matter? Well it's simply bad policy. To allow the VP to assume more power than is alloted to him by the Constitution would violate both the spirit and text of the law of the land. It's also worth noting that the last eight years have seen a dramatic increase of the power of the Executive, a trend that would be exacerbated by this furtherance of VP power. I only hope the VP candidates do some research (for instance...reading the Constitution) on the duties and obligations one of them is about to incur.



I can't say I generally disagree with what was said. Just a thought though. To me it seems like it was almost as if the creation of the Vice Presidency was an afterthought. When creating the system, it was obvious that some method of succession would be required in the case the President stepped down or died in office. So there was born the idea of the VP, to essentially be a backup. Then after creating a Senate where each state has two seats, by definition there has to a be an even amount of Senators. What does one do if there is a tie? Well lets give that VP guy that job; he doesn't really do anything else.

To the extent that the VP does have a hybrid role, it would not be a foreign concept to the Framers. It would fit well into a similar idea of what the Prime Minister in a Parlimentary system originally was intended to be; that being the King's (executive branch) representative in Parliment. This role of the PM in Britain had evolved considerably from its origins even by the time of the Framers, and perhaps this is why the powers of the VP are very few and the advisory role of the VP is very open ended and left undefined. I have no idea what the thought process was, but just a thought on the possible means of thinking.



That's a good point, EJB. I'm not entirely sure what the Framers had in mind either...but perhaps, given their knowledge of the PM position, the VP was designed to be something similar.

No real rebuttal here, but I wanted to link to this article.

The original Cheney quote is found within the article and it also highlights some of the dangers of this unprecedented expansion of VP power. Cheney, by claiming he is a member of the Legislature, can avoid any Executive orders that would apply to all other Executive members, be they agencies or individuals. Essentially, he is trying to avoid disclosure of VP secrets by annexing more power for his office. THIS is the danger, EJF. THIS is what is unprecedented.