Monday, May 31, 2010

Return of the Unitary Executive

NJ Spotlight reports that the Perth Amboy school district has filed a lawsuit claiming that Governor Christie has exceeded his powers as Governor.  By executive order, the Governor withheld $475 million in state aid payments to schools across New Jersey.  Perth Amboy, which lost $15 million as a result, claims that the Governor illegally superseded a statute duly passed by the legislature.

This is at least the third lawsuit alleging Governor Christie is acting beyond his Constitutional mandate.  When Governor Christie sought to hold labor unions to the same campaign finance limits as businesses, the unions sued.  When the Governor re-wrote collective bargaining agreements with public unions to require public employees to contribute to their health care, the unions sued again,  

It reminds me of Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota being sued for "unallotting" items in the State's budget approved by the legislature.  But even more so, it reminds me of Dick Cheney and the theory of the unitary executive.

Under the Federal Constitution, the President is vested with executive power.  Unitary executive theory holds that this exclusive vesting gives the President the sole power to set policy.  In its most extreme version, unitary executive theory holds that neither the judiciary nor the Congress can exert any power over the President, especially on national security matters.

At heart the unitary executive theory is an argument in favor of a government led by a strong father figure, a disciplinarian.  Its proponents would take us back to the era before Watergate when a President was above question and above the law.  Because what this country needs is to stop all this political correctness nonsense, end this obsessive questioning of authority and get done what needs to get done (in the view of those who know better)..

And then it hits me.  Chris Christie is trying to be a unitary executive for New Jersey.  By that I mean a chiding disciplinarian who is going to overrule the legislature, intimidate the judiciary, shut down the programs for the poor that the State cannot afford, break the backs of the unions that have gotten to big for their own good and return us to an era when the State was not responsible for creating a level playing field in any arena.

So it's not that the budget crisis is causing Chris Christie to shrink the size of government.  No, just as George Bush used 9/11 as political cover for a long-standing neo-conservative agenda which included starting a war with Iraq; and just as Barack Obama used the financial meltdown as a justification for a long-standing liberal proposal for a national health care plan; Chris Christie is using our State's budget crisis to push a far right agenda that would never be acceptable to New Jerseyans under normal circumstances.

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