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Our 'Government of Laws' Is Now Above the Law | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Our 'Government of Laws' Is Now Above the Law


Attorney General Eric Holder. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.)

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

“The government of the United States,” wrote Chief Justice John Marshall in his famous decision in Marbury v. Madison, “has been emphatically termed a government of laws, and not of men.” This principle—grounded in the Constitution, enforced by an independent judiciary—is central to the American creed. Citizens have rights, and fundamental to these is due process of the law.

This ideal, of course, has often been trampled in practice, particularly in times of war or national panic. But the standard remains, central to the legitimacy of therepublic.

Yet last week Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking for the administration with an alarmingly casual nonchalance, traduced the whole notion of a nation of laws.

First, the attorney general responded to Senator Rand Paul’s inquiry as to whether the president claimed the “power to authorize a lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil and without trial.” After noting that the United States has never done so and has no intention of doing so, Holder wrote that, speaking hypothetically, it is “possible to imagine” an extraordinary circumstance in which that power might become “necessary and appropriate.”

Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

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