Eleanor Holmes Norton: 'You don't have a right to know' what's going on at the White House
Rep. Elanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.'s non voting delegate to Congress, has a novel definition of the separation of powers. Becoming exasperated at House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's insistence that a subpoena to David Simas, director of the administration's Office of Political Strategy, should go forward, Holmes Norton dressed down Issa by claiming the Oversight Committee, which oversees the executive branch, didn't have the right to investigate the White House.
"You don't have a right to know everything in a separation-of-powers government, my friend. That is the difference between a parliamentary government and a separation-of-powers government," Norton said during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing.
It was, to put mildly, a significant departure from the more traditional liberal stance that openness and transparency are must to prevent abuses of power by government officials. Instead the leading advocate for statehood for the District of Columbia literally argued that even the congressional committee charged with oversight shouldn't be asking questions in the first place.
She made the comments while protesting the committee's Republican majority for voting to ignore a claim by the White House that David Simas, director of it's Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, was immune to a congressional subpoena to testify. Republicans believe the office is being used a political campaign operation, a violation of federal election law.
Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., noted he was not alleging any wrongdoing by Simas, but there was a history of violations involving that particular office in prior administrations that justified requesting his testimony.
Under President Obama, the White House has asserted sweeping executive powers, including the right to ignore pretty much all congressional inquiries. The administration has regularly ignored subpoenas from congressional committees.
Holmes was clearly down with that. She called Issa's subpoena a "showcase fishing expedition." She went on to argue that the Constitution's separation of powers specifically gives the people who work directly under the chief executive immunity from subpoenas. "The president's immediate advisor is not an agency and this is not a matter of policy," she said, before going to further clarify that we "don't have a right to know" everything that the administration does.
Obviously, Holmes Norton is ignorant of the Constitution as well as the dozen or so Supreme Court rulings that have given Congress wide latitude to investigate the executive branch.
The Legal Information Institute makes Holmes-Norton look like the idiot she is:
The Court has long since accorded its agreement with Congress that the investigatory power is so essential to the legislative function as to be implied from the general vesting of legislative power in Congress. “We are of the opinion,” wrote Justice Van Devanter, for a unanimous Court, “that the power of inquiry—with process to enforce it—is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function. . . . A legislative body cannot legislate wisely or effectively in the absence of information respecting the conditions which the legislation is intended to affect or change; and where the legislative body does not itself possess the requisite information— which not infrequently is true—recourse must be had to others who possess it. Experience has taught that mere requests for such information often are unavailing, and also that information which is volunteered is not always accurate or complete; so some means of compulsion are essential to obtain what is needed. All this was true before and when the Constitution was framed and adopted. In that period the power of inquiry—with enforcing process—was regarded and employed as a necessary and appropriate attribute of the power to legislate— indeed, was treated as inhering in it. Thus there is ample warrant for thinking, as we do, that the constitutional provisions which commit the legislative function to the two houses are intended to include this attribute to the end that the function may be effectively exercised.”163
It is any wonder that we have a government that is unable and unwilling to follow the simple precepts of the Constitution? Ignorance is no excuse, but in Holmes Norton and most liberal's cases, the Constitution is seen as an impediment - something to be overcome not followed.
Does Constitutional Law Professor Obama feel the same way? He's acting as if he does.