DANCING WITH THE CZARS - not STARS!
September 25, 2009
First, let me start with a definition of a czar: Occasionally spelled Csar or Tzar, it is a Slavic term derived from the Bulgarian word meaning "Emperor." It is actually the way the Bulgarians of the middle ages spelt Caesar. It that medieval sense it is one who claims the rank of supreme ruler, with the blessing of the ruling ecclesiastical authority (i.e. the church).
The White House czars are presidential assistants charged with responsibility for given policy areas. As such, they are among the president's closest advisers. In many respects, they are equivalent to the personal staff of a member of Congress. To subject the qualifications of such assistants to congressional scrutiny - the regular confirmation process - would trench upon the president's inherent right, as the head of an independent and equal branch of the federal government, to seek advice and counsel where he sees fit.
To President Obama, a czar is one who is given oversight over a particular area the White House deems is worthy of such attention and is given a staff and the authority to carry out the job duties assigned by the President without the consent or approval of the legislative branch of the government. Many of the current czars have staffs larger than most of the regular advisors within the West Wing of the White House. Their budgets are huge and their responsibilities are multi-faceted.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has argued that the Obama administration's "czars" are effectively in those positions unconstitutionally because their hiring creates "precisely the kind of ambiguity the Framers sought to prevent." Far from undermining the separation of powers, however, the president's right to organize his White House policymaking apparatus is protected by that very constitutional principle.
As Hutchison points out, the result of a president seeking counsel where he likes may well be embarrassment - as was the case with "green jobs czar" Van Jones, who recently resigned over revelations of his ties to radical groups and his apparent endorsement of Sept. 11 conspiracy theories. Barack Obama has taken the political hit - and he is not the first president to pay that price. In 2006, Claude Allen, a domestic policy adviser to President George W. Bush, resigned after being accused of shoplifting.
This raises a second point in the Obama administration's favor: Some of the positions many are now criticizing have existed for years. As The Washington Post has reported: "By one count, Bush had 36 czar positions filled by 46 people during his eight years as president." Historically, presidents have turned to special advisers.
However much the czars may drive the policymaking process at the White House, they cannot - despite their grandiose (and frankly ridiculous) appellation - determine what that policy will be. The Constitution's "appointments clause" requires that very senior federal officials be appointed with the Senate's consent, though lesser appointments can be made by the president, agency heads or the courts, as Congress provides. Well-established Supreme Court precedent holds that an "officer" subject to these requirements is one who exercises "significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States."
This is the critical difference between the White House czars and federal officials who must be confirmed by the Senate. In the absence of legislation (such as that creating the Office of Drug Control Policy, whose director is the "drug czar"), the only power exercised by White House czars comes from their proximity to the president and the access this provides. Yes, as many will note, that truly is power. But it is not significant authority under U.S. law - which only the Constitution or Congress can confer.
Now for the historical fact. From Franklin D. Roosevelt through George W. Bush, the total combined number of czars appointed (that's from 1933 until 2009) is 32! Mr. Obama has equaled that number all by himself and in less than eight months in office. Already, he has far exceeded the previous powers enjoyed by every President - including Franklin Roosevelt, who, I am certain, if he were alive today would wonder how Obama did it. Roosevelt never amassed as much power and probably never dreamed any president could do it.
If there is doubt about the centrality of advisers to the president's execution of his office, recall the 2005 demands by Democrats that former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Bush adviser Karl Rove testify before Congress about the dismissal of several U.S. attorneys. This effort had very little to do with Miers and Rove and even less to do with a handful of unhappy Republican political appointees. The target was always President Bush and his policies. Republicans who are concerned about Obama's czars should not fall into the same bad habits now that a Democrat is president.
Hutchison's frustration at being unable to tell whether the czars are imposing the administration's agenda on agency officials who have been confirmed by the Senate is misplaced. Legally, they can do no such thing. The Constitution vests all executive power in the president, creating a unitary executive, and it is his authority to execute the laws that federal officials exercise, subject to his direction.
Wow! You say? Well, that is your tax dollars at work, placing czars in positions in which they are willing to regulate your money, your job, your places of influence and your very life. They are advising the President in the best ways to undermine the Constitution, the Congress and the very people who put him in office. They have their empires in which they move and work and over which they regulate, but the ultimate sphere of their influence is the United States!!
For those of you wanting to know just who these Czars are, let me introduce you to them:
We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.