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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Yoo, as in Stoopid

Consider this part of our ongoing series exploring correspondences between early modern politics and the presidency of George W. Bush.

In today's New York Times, John Yoo, UC-Berkeley law professor and totalitarian theorist, offers a jaw-droppingly curious view of the national security situation faced by the U.S. in the 1970s:
The changes of the 1970’s occurred largely because we had no serious national security threats to United States soil, but plenty of paranoia in the wake of Richard Nixon’s use of national security agencies to spy on political opponents. Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution, which purports to cut off presidential uses of force abroad after 60 days. It passed the Budget and Impoundment Act to eliminate the modest presidential power to rein in wasteful spending. The Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act required the government to get a warrant from a special court to conduct wiretapping for national security reasons.
Four letters: U.S.S.R.

This sentence is another winner:
The White House has declared that the Constitution allows the president to sidestep laws that invade his executive authority. That is why Mr. Bush has issued hundreds of signing statements — more than any previous president — reserving his right not to enforce unconstitutional laws.
Oh, yes, I love the justly famous "sidestep-the-law" provision in the Constitution. Even the grammar of Yoo's sentence is revealing. If the Constitution allows "sidestepping" the law, then why has the White House had to declare it? If Yoo's statement were true, then couldn't he have written his sentence this way: "The Constitution allows the president to break laws that invade his executive authority"?

So, let's turn back to early modern England. Who would have been the John Yoo of Charles I's court? In other words, who was the pre-eminent Caroline legal theorist and apologist? The Earl of Strafford?

Update: as Hieronimo points out in comments, John Finch is a much better analogue.

  • At 9/17/2006 11:53:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    I'd go with John Finch, chief judge in the Ship Money case, future Lord Keeper.

    The Crown's argument in Ship Money was that the nonparliamentary tax was allowable under emergency conditions of immediate need due to war. And only the king could determine when the country was at war. Hence, Ship Money was legitimate whenever the king said it was legitimate. Yoo's arguments about the President's supposed Article II commander-in-chief powers is exactly the same.


  • At 9/18/2006 01:27:00 AM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    How do these people get tenure?


  • At 9/18/2006 08:56:00 AM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Yes, Finch, of course. From my favorite biographical resource, the Oxford DNB: "Finch became well known for the height to which he carried the royal prerogative, as well as for the severity of his sentences. ... Throughout [his career in the Star Chamber] he was conspicuously harsh on religious offenders. Once he became chairman of Star Chamber in 1640, his opening speeches warned the country of swarming rogues, treasonous villains, and the subversion of religion, law, and government."

    In the Hampden ship money case particularly, "He delivered a long and somewhat rambling judgment, concluding with the statement that ‘I conceive upon common law, and the fundamental policy of the kingdom, that the king may charge his subjects for the defence of the kingdom … when it is in danger’, and ‘that the king is sole judge of the danger’ (State trials, 3.1243)."

    So Finch it is. Our Yoo is their Finch. I'll leave it to Truewit to jeopardize his ears by composing a suitably scurrilous libel.


  • At 9/18/2006 04:05:00 PM, Blogger Greenwit wrote…

    A tempting challenge, Simplicius, but I'm afraid nothing funny rhymes with Yoo.

    Except maybe shampoo.

    Fine. Here's a quick one.

    You cannot topp a Berklee man
    For sulfrous ranke legerdemain;
    Nor washe his lies with Prell Shampoo;
    Nor truste him more than I truste Yoo.

    god. sorry. I have to go back to my book now.


  • At 9/19/2006 02:20:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Screw you, Yoo.

    You smell just like a poo,
    Nor balles have you two;
    The words you write aren't true,
    And your mom lives in a zoo.

    I encourage others to add their own couplets.


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