Too many pundits in the national news media glibly stated over and over again that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul stood on the floor of the United States Senate -- for nearly thirteen straight hours last Wednesday -- to “filibuster” President Obama’s nominee for CIA Director. And sure, while this is technically true, in my view this sort of political analysis completely misses the mark. Writing in the Washington Times on Friday, the senator explained in his own words why he rose to speak that day -- namely, to defend the principles enshrined in the United States Constitution:
On Wednesday, I rose to begin a filibuster on the nomination of John O. Brennan to be director of the CIA. I stood up with the intent of speaking until I was no longer able to speak. I vowed to speak as long as it took, until an alarm was sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that our rights to trial by jury are precious, and that no American should be killed by a drone on U.S. soil without having been found guilty in a court of law.
I didn’t rise to oppose Mr. Brennan’s nomination simply based on him as a person. I rose to defend the principles of our Constitution, principles for which we have fought long and hard. To give up on that principle — the Bill of Rights, the Fifth Amendment — is a travesty. I will not sit back and allow the president to shred our Constitution.
In other words, the purpose of Senator Paul’s filibuster was not necessarily to derail John Brennan’s nomination to become CIA Director. (Paul, incidentally, is on the record saying he believes presidents should be given a certain degree of latitude when choosing political appointees). Rather, it was to raise awareness about an issue that should concern any citizen who values his or her God-given civil liberties: Can the federal government kill American citizens on U.S. soil without due process? This -- and only this -- is the unanswered question which compelled him to invoke the old-school filibuster last Wednesday morning:
When the president took the oath of office, he vowed that he would, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. He raised his hand, his right hand, put his left hand on the Bible and said, “I will.” What the president doesn’t say is, “I intend to if it’s convenient. I intend to, unless circumstances dictate otherwise.”
When Mr. Brennan was asked directly, “Is there any limit to your killing? Is there any geographic limitation to your drone strike program?” He responded no, there is no limitation. The obvious question would be, then, if there’s no limitation to whom you can kill and where you can kill and there’s no due process, does that mean you will do it in America?
We have separation of powers to protect our rights. That’s what government was organized to do, and that’s what the Constitution was put into place to do.
I think this is something we shouldn’t give up on so easily. The president does not have the power to act as the judge, jury and executioner. Are we so afraid of terrorism that we’re willing to just throw out our rights and our freedoms?
Montesquieu said there can be no liberty when you combine the executive and the legislative. I would say that there can be no liberty when you combine the executive and the judiciary, yet that’s what we would be doing here. No man should have that power. It has nothing to do with whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. It has to do with whether or not you fear the consolidation of power.
This is what our Founding Fathers wanted to fight. They wanted to limit the role and the power of the president. They wanted to check the president’s power with the power of the Senate, House and judiciary. Wednesday night, I stood proudly with bipartisan senators declaring that we will not tolerate this. We all came together to tell the president, to tell any president, that no one will ever have the authority to kill Americans without a trial.
It’s deeply disconcerting that Mr. Brennan effectively said during his confirmation hearing last month that there’s no limit to the scope of the president’s drone policy. Remember, as Dr. Paul reminded us during his hours-long filibuster, channeling the 19th century British historian Lord Acton, that power corrupts, and “absolutely power corrupts absolutely.” Put simply, no American president should be given the right to act as “judge, jury and executioner” when it comes to the lives of U.S. citizens, according to Paul. That’s simply too much power for an individual to wield -- and totally anathema to the American way of life.
I’m glad that Senator Paul -- and his Senate colleagues as well as the House members who stood by his side -- had the fortitude to stand up and demand answers to tough questions. And in the end, while Senator Paul got precisely what he wanted, he actually accomplished so much more than that. If anything, he showed that traditional ways of doing business (and getting answers) in Washington are still viable, even if such tactics invite ridicule and contempt.
So congratulations, Dr. Paul. And for those Americans reading this and who will sleep a little bit easier tonight, you know who to thank.