Tag: Robert C. Byrd

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.

RIP Robert C. Byrd, the Last Defender of Congress

On the occasion of the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, libertarians will rightly think about the senator’s flamboyant defense of federal largesse rained down on West Virginia and the garish and unseemly tendency to name things purchased with this largesse after the senator.  No doubt his membership in the Ku Klux Klan will be a centerpiece of the remembrance as well.

What hopefully will not go unremembered are a few additional facts.  As Adam Clymer’s obituary observes, Byrd was a jealous defender of the rights of Congress against imperial presidentialism, likely the last of a breed.  You probably could count on one hand the younger senators or congressmen who take as seriously as did Byrd their duty as members of the American legislature.  Byrd frequently was seen wagging his copy of the Cato Institute reprint of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution in the face of his fellow legislators.  (If I recall correctly, my colleague Roger Pilon, who wrote the introduction to the reprint, wondered aloud whether Byrd had read it, given his view that the Treasury could rightly be used as West Virginia’s piggybank.)

Byrd was also a man who turned dripping contempt into a high art form.  You could see this in any number of his speeches, but in particular this attribute was on display during the Iraq War debate.  Byrd, to his great credit, seemed to smell a rat from the outset, and he repeatedly and unsuccessfully spoke out against both the war and the executive deference that surrounded the debate.  (Those supporters of the Iraq War who condemn Byrd’s porcine tendencies should ask themselves how many West Virginia bridges could have been purchased with the hundreds of billions and thousands of American lives we have poured into that disgraceful enterprise.  And at least we could drive across them.)

The man had a sense of history, as well.  Byrd’s anti-presidentialism, opposition to Iraq, and historical grounding were all on display in this characteristic clip from the Iraq War debate in 2002, in which Byrd had some thoughts on appeals to legislators’ duty to the “Commander in Chief.”

I will not miss the Senator’s penchant for pork, but I will certainly miss his lifelong defense of the prerogatives of the legislature.  Rest in peace.