09 April 2008

Homeland Security uber alles

As if Michael Chertoff, the U.S. Homeland Security czar, didn't have enough power, Congress granted him even more. In 2005, they gave him the right to void any federal law that might interfere with construction of a fence his department is building between the United States and Mexico. Any law at all. And if that wasn't enough, they also forbade the courts from interfering. Mr. Chertoff's word is final. Long live the czar.

Mr. Chertoff hasn't been reluctant to exercise his powers. He has issued waivers suspending dozens of laws, including laws that protect the environment, endangered species, farmland, Native burial sites and religious freedom. He is doing all this in the name of -- what else? -- national security, but one wonders what the fence has to do with security. In truth, it's really about keeping Mexicans out of the country, and they aren't crossing the border to explode bombs; they're looking for work, for heaven's sake. This is an immigration matter, not a security matter.

It is more than a little sad to see Congress voluntarily giving up its powers to the Administration, particularly an administration that abuses such powers as eagerly as it seeks them, but unfortunately that is the United States today. Not all Americans are mutely accepting this state of affairs, however. Two environmental groups have launched a constitutional challenge of one of Mr. Chertoff's waivers before the Supreme Court, their last resort. A number of Democratic congressmen support the suit and have called on the Court to overturn the 2005 law. Good luck to them. Placing unelected civil servants above the law is a practice any democracy can well do without. Paranoia is not an excuse.

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