Is the country facing a constitutional crisis? | The Tylt
Is the country facing a constitutional crisis?
The New York Times explains the commonly understood definition of a constitutional crisis.
A constitutional crisis exists when two conditions hold. First, we face a situation where the Constitution does not provide a clear, definitive answer to a basic problem of governance. Second, the political actors whose conflict is creating the problem appear ready to press their competing courses of action to the limit.
According to writer and law professor Noah Feldman, Trump's actions perfectly fit this definition.
President Trump’s stonewalling of the House impeachment inquiry also satisfies the two conditions for a constitutional crisis. First, the Constitution doesn’t indicate what is supposed to happen if the House tries to exercise its constitutional power of oversight to investigate the president and the president flatly rejects the House’s constitutional authority. Congress can demand that the president comply, but it can’t very well send its sergeant-at-arms to the White House to enforce its subpoenas.
Opinion writer Paul Waldman at the Washington Post concurs with Feldman's conclusion, arguing the Trump administration is clearly acting with disregard for both the law and the constitution.
Boiled down to its essence, the letter asserts that Trump is beyond the reach of oversight, of impeachment and of any checks and balances from the legislative branch. Because he thinks Congress is not treating him “fairly” (the word “fair” appears eight times in the letter), Trump has decided that he can issue a blanket refusal to “participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry.” All requests for documents and testimony will be rejected, and all subpoenas will be thrown in the trash.
...The White House, however, is not saying that they have legal grounds to refuse some particular request Congress has made. They don’t even make a claim of executive privilege. They say instead that the entire inquiry is unfair, and therefore they can reject all of it.
“If Congress cannot exercise its power of oversight or its power of impeachment, it essentially means the president doesn’t have to answer to anyone but the political process, which only comes around every four years,” [Professor Melissa Murray of New York University law school] says. “And that essentially makes the president a king.”
However, some legal experts believe the House still has ways to continue their investigation. At Vox, Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, explains that the impeachment inquiry will not be stopped by the White House's lack of cooperation.
Once the House has decided to conduct an impeachment inquiry, it must have the power to subpoena witnesses and compel submission of relevant evidence. If the president could conceal evidence and ignore subpoenas, Congress’ constitutional authority over impeachment would be seriously undermined. Indeed, failure to cooperate with a congressional impeachment process is itself likely an impeachable offense.
It is too early to tell whether Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry will lead to a constitutional crisis. I suspect not, especially since there is plenty of damning evidence that has already been made public. The White House’s refusal to cooperate may be an attempt to corral a horse that has already left the barn. Still, that refusal is a breach of the separation of powers.
Josh Chafetz, a Cornell law professor, explains to Vox, Trump's refusal to cooperate could be dramatic enough to turn some of his former supporters against him, making him effectively powerless.
The remedy, if it came at all, would have to be political. If Trump were to defy both the House and the judiciary, Chafetz predicts that the president “would outrage a decent chunk of the public” and that Trump’s approval rating would crater. That “would have the effect of turning a bunch of GOP elites against him, which, in turn, might drive his approval still lower. I think at that point it ends with his ouster.”