Per Article II of the Constitution of the United States of America, the President holds the following powers:
1. The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces;
2. With the consent of the Senate, the President can make treaties;
3. For as long as Senate approves, the President is responsible for nominating the heads of all of the Departments;
4. The President can proclaim laws through executive orders even without approval of the Congress;
5. The President can pardon federal offenses;
6. The President can convene Congress for special sessions;
7. The President can issue a Presidential veto on legislation approved by Congress; he must accept or reject the entire legislation. This veto, however may be overridden by a two-thirds vote from Congress;
8. Finally, the President annually delivers a State of the Nation address to the houses of Congress.
In other words, the president has the powers of appointment, executive clemency, foreign affairs, emergency powers, and executive privileges, subject to some constraints. This paper tackles the executive privileges of the President and how it affects the nation as a whole.
In the United States government, executive privileges refer to the powers of the current President and members of the executive branch to resist summons of the law and the legislative branch (Congress). In most matters (but not always), the President is protecting matters relative to the national security. George Washington was the first one to execute his presidential executive privileges.
The year was 1796 and President Washington refused to hand over to the House of Representatives the documents relative to the Pinckney’s Treaty with Spain. He did however, give the documents to the Senate as it is the Senate alone that plays a role in treaty ratification.
Throughout history, other presidents have invoked this executive privilege. The one most notable is President Nixon. President Nixon invoked the privilege and refused to produce audiotapes of conversations he had with his colleagues in the White House in conenction with criminal charges brought against his office. It was due to President Nixon’s invocation that the Supreme Court affirmed the presence of executive priveleges in the Constitution but denying the absolute privileges. Bill Clinton also invoked the privilege but was denied by court. And called the former President’s aides to testify about the Lewinsky scandal.
The most recent invocation of executive privileges is that of President Bush. In his terms as President of the United States of America, he invoked the privilege numerous times, first is by denying disclosure of former Attorney General Janet Reno’s sought-for details, second is when he denied to disclose the details of Vice President Dick Cheney’s meetings with energy executives, third is when he refused to answer subpoenas requesting documents from former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor, fourth is when he blocked a congressional subpoena requiring the testimonies of Taylor and Miers, fifth is when Counsel Fielding refused to provode documents related to the 2004 death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, lastly, Bush invoked the privilege for the fourth time in little over a month, by rejecting a subpoena for Karl Rove. The subpoena would have required the President’s Senior Advisor to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a probe over fired federal prosecutors.
It is completely understandable that the Constitution provides for executive privileges. In matters of national security and other matters risking the peace and security of a nation, the President, however he may see fit, should refuse information to the public for the betterment of his people. The writers of the Constitution must have been thinking for all of the Nation when it was incorporated in Article II, because a President who panics and divulge all unnecessary information to the public may cause panic, hysteria and depression among his people. Some information are just too classified to be public property as it is detrimental to national interest and security.
It must be pointed out, however that presidential privilege and presidential immunity is quite different from one another. Thankfully, nowadays, there is no such thing as absolute presidential immunity. The President, even if he is the President of the United States of America, the most powerful man in the world, is not, and cannot be above the law.
This is why, throughout history, the concept of executive privilege has been challenged, especially in the face of controversy. Nixon and Clinton failed in their invocation because the court ruled that the information they are protecting will not be detrimental to public security. They have invoked the presidential privilege for their own personal protection and not the public. Essentially, that the Presidents mentioned, are not above the law and the criminal justice system.
In my opinion, the Supreme Court has previously addressed the main point of this essay. The President must do his duties per the Law of the Land: the Constitution. Executive privilege is not evil however, greed is. The privilege must be used to the interest of the public and not for the person of the one invoking it.