ACLU Calls on Congress to Assert its Constitutional Role

July 25, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON- The American Civil Liberties Union called on Congress today to reaffirm itself as an equal branch of government and vote to hold White House officials in contempt for refusing to cooperate with legitimate congressional subpoenas. Calling this a constitutional crisis that threatens to destroy the separation of powers, the ACLU reminded Congress that its oversight and legislative role are vital.

“Presidents have tried in the past to overreach in claiming executive privilege,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “However, Congress has long served as a check to such abuses of power, slapping the president’s hand when needed and pursuing contempt or enforcement actions that eventually resulted in the release of crucial information. Today’s Congress must do the same if it wishes to remain a meaningful and independent branch of government.”

The ACLU rejected claims that Congress’ responsibility to conduct oversight or investigate executive misconduct was somehow less important than its legislative function and therefore not worthy of compulsory enforcement.

Fredrickson added, “It’s do-or-die time for the separation of powers. Congress is facing a historic moment when it can fight for its rightful place in our Constitution or accept the president’s continued and sweeping claims of supremacy.”

U.S. courts have long supported Congress’ authority not only to pass laws, but also to investigate their application. The courts have asserted that claims of executive privilege are a potentially dangerous proposition that should only be applied, and can only be upheld, under narrow circumstances. Such privilege cannot be used as a means to hide government wrongdoing, and cannot stand in the face of Congress’ demonstrated need for the information.

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