Cato Policy Analysis No. 271 March 31, 1997

Policy Analysis

Dereliction Of Duty:
The Constitutional Record of President Clinton

by Timothy Lynch

Timothy Lynch is assistant director of the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies.


Executive Summary

President Clinton recently put his hand on the Bible and swore an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." He took the same oath in January 1993. As the president embarks on his second term in office, it is an appropriate time to review his record thus far to see how well he has defended our Constitution.

Although President Clinton has expressed support for an "expansive" view of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, he has actually weakened a number of fundamental guarantees, including those of free speech and the right to trial by jury and that against double jeopardy. He has also supported retroactive taxes, gun control, and warrantless searches and seizures. The president's legal team is constantly pushing for judicial rulings that will sanction expansions of federal power. The Clinton White House has, for example, supported the federalization of health care, crime fighting, environmental protection, and education. Clinton also claims constitutional authority to order military attacks against other countries whenever he deems it appropriate. President Clinton's record is, in a word, deplorable. If constitutional report cards were handed out to presidents, he would receive an F.

It is to be hoped that President Clinton will resolve to be more conscientious about his constitutional responsibilities in his second term. But should his dereliction of duty continue, Congress and the Supreme Court should stand fast against any constitutional transgression. In the present climate, it is vitally important for all Americans to understand that the Constitution is incapable of enforcing itself. That task ultimately rests with the citizenry. If the American people demand adherence to the Constitution, government officials, including President Clinton, will respect the limitations that were wisely placed on their power.

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