Commentary

Clinton’s Shameful Constitutional Record

Our capital city is abuzz over President Clinton’s shady fundraising practices and real estate dealings, but the most serious Clinton scandal isn’t getting the attention it deserves. In broad daylight — and in the full view of Congress and the media — President Clinton has been busy undermining the Constitution. The only good news about this scandal is that it’s impossible to cover up. Consider its reach:

Censorship. The First Amendment guarantees every American the right to free speech, but President Clinton is a champion of censorship. Over the last four years, the Justice Department has attempted to expand government controls over television, radio and the Internet. The Clinton administration has also attempted to restrict the free speech rights of businesspeople: according to Clinton’s lawyers, Americans have the right to produce T-shirts emblazoned with pictures of Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson but not Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man. First Amendment specialist Floyd Abrams has charged the Clinton White House with defending “policies that maximize threats to free expression.” It is a charge that Clinton cannot deny.

Warrantless Searches. The Fourth Amendment protects every American home against warrantless and unreasonable searches, but President Clinton claims that search warrants are unnecessary in the “national security” context. The president also signed the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, Orwellian legislation that forces every telephone company in America to retrofit its phone lines and networks so that they will be more accessible to police wiretaps. The Justice Department has packaged those proposals as “anti-terrorism” and “tough on crime” measures. Such policies have led civil liberties advocates to describe the Clinton White House as “the most wiretap-friendly administration in history.”

Double Prosecutions. The double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment is designed to protect Americans from repetitive prosecutions, but the Clinton administration has signed off on several double prosecutions in recent years. For example, President Clinton could have stopped the federal prosecution of the Los Angeles police officers who beat up Rodney King, but he let that case go forward, apparently seeing no injustice in double jeopardy.

Separation of Powers. The Framers of the Constitution wanted Congress to make the momentous decision of whether America ought to go to war, but President Clinton has asserted the unilateral power to attack other countries whenever he deems that course of action to be appropriate. Since Clinton assumed office in 1993, he has launched two missile attacks against Iraq, ordered air strikes in Bosnia and threatened to invade Haiti. In each instance, the president claimed that it was unnecessary to seek any constitutional authorization from Congress.

Equality Under the Law. The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides: “No state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Although President Clinton has always campaigned as a moderate Democrat and has expressed opposition to racial quotas, his conduct in office tells a different story. The Clinton White House has supported racial preferences in government hiring, contracting and university admissions. Last year, California citizens attempted to return to the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection by passing the California Civil Rights Initiative; after they voted to forbid state-sponsored racial preferences in public schools, public employment and public contracting, Attorney General Reno filed a lawsuit to invalidate the election.

Federalism. The Constitution creates a federal government of limited powers. The Tenth Amendment was added to the Constitution to remind federal officials that the powers that are not delegated to the federal government “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” But President Clinton acts as though the Tenth Amendment does not exist. This administration has sought to federalize health care, crime- fighting, environmental protection and education. Those are precisely the kinds of subjects that are supposed to remain outside the federal sphere. The Clinton understanding of the Constitution seems to be that there is no limit to the federal government’s reach.

If President Clinton were to tear up a copy of the Constitution on nationwide television and announce his intention to govern the country without any constitutional constraints, the American people would rise up and demand his resignation. The president has cleverly chosen a less dramatic way to implement his extra-constitutional agenda. He has lulled the public to sleep with repeated assurances about the goals he wants to achieve as well as his own fidelity to the Constitution.

As his first term of office drew to a close, Bill Clinton stated that one of his “highest goals as president” was “to protect and uphold the Constitution.” In fact, however, this president is serving up a new Constitution to replace the old one — and the new one stinks.

Timothy Lynch is the assistant director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies and the author of “Dereliction of Duty: The Constitutional Record of President Clinton.”