Robert Byrd and the Constitution

Senator Robert C. Byrd, who died today at age 92, had a long and varied career. Unlike most senators, Senator Byrd remembered that the Constitution delegates the power to make law and the power to make war to Congress, not the president. He often held up the Cato Institute’s pocket edition of the Constitution as he made that vital point in Senate debate. I have several emails from colleagues over the years reading “Senator Byrd is waving the Cato Constitution on the Senate floor right now.” Alas, if he really took the Constitution seriously, he would have realized that the limited powers it gives the federal government wouldn’t include many of the New Deal and Great Society programs that opened up whole new vistas for pork in West Virginia.

Justin has already used the photo of Senator Byrd wielding the Cato Constitution to make a point on Meet the Press in 2004. At right, at a Capitol Hill press conference in 1998 after the Supreme Court rejected the line-item veto, Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Byrd cite their pocket Constitutions as Sen. Pat Moynihan (D-NY) looks on. For more examples of senators and other public figures displaying the Cato pocket Constitution, see this Cato Policy Report (pdf) article.

To purchase copies of the Cato pocket edition of the Constitution, which also includes the Declaration of Independence and an introduction by Roger Pilon, click here.

Let us hope that some other senator takes up Senator Byrd’s vigilance about the powers of Congress and the imperial presidency.