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Congress Can Overrule The President On Any Decision - Including Our Policies On Iraq.

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There has been a lot of talk going on lately about the "decisions" which President Bush will make regarding his disastrous War in Iraq. Many people who should know better are speaking as if the President somehow has the authority -- all by himself -- to determine the Military and Foreign Relations policies of the United States of America. On the Sunday talk shows, people are anxiously awaiting to see which recommendations Bush will "accept," as if his acceptance or rejection were all-important. "After all," they seem to say, reverently: "he is the Commander-In Chief! These decisions belong to him alone!"

Wrong! This belief is dangerous nonsense, created by the Bush Administration and promoted by their obedient Rubber-Stamp followers.

This false assertion has been propped up by Bush's baseless claim of "Inherent Executive Powers" to do whatever he personally wants to do as President, regardless of what Congress may or may not instruct him to do. His Rubber-Stamp followers in Congress have promoted this unconstitutional idea of an all-powerful Commander-In-Chief; and in the process, they have in effect surrendered the policy-making powers and responsibilities entrusted to Congress by the Constitution. All patriotic Americans should be outraged at this blatant Executive Power Grab, facilitated by Bush's servile followers in Congress.

The truth is, the President is not supposed to be the Great Decider, but the Capable Administrator, who faithfully executes whatever laws are duly enacted by Congress.

"Congress makes the laws. The President faithfully executes the laws. The Supreme Court interprets the laws." This is how it is now, and always has been, under our Constitution. And nothing about this changes in time of war.

Therefore, Congress has the Constitutional authority to establish whatever policies it wants in Iraq. If the President disagrees, he can veto the act passed by Congress. But Congress has the final say, because it can override a Presidential veto with a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. The act then become law, regardless of the President's veto. And the President is obligated to obey and implement that law, even it he disapproves of it. If he fails to do so, Congress can impeach him and remove him from office, for the high crime of deliberately refusing to execute a law duly passed by Congress.

The Supreme Court ruled decisively on this exact subject in the early days of our Country, when the Founders' intentions were fresh and clear in people's minds. The case is named LITTLE v. BARREME, and you can read it here:

LITTLE v. BARREME, 6 U.S. 170 (1804):

And this powerful and important decision has been cited as precedent hundreds, if not thousands of times, by the Supreme Court and other Federal Courts, even up to the present day. Far from being some kind of irrelevant old decision, that may have subsequently been overruled, it is as strong and important today as it ever has been.

The question in this case involved the President giving orders which contradicted an Act of Congress, regarding a military action in a time of semi-declared war. And the Supreme Court ruled that the President's actions were illegal, because they violated an Act of Congress.

In the case "LITTLE v. BARREME," The Supreme Court in 1804 ruled unanimously that a part of President John Adams' instructions to seize ships was in conflict with an act of Congress and therefore illegal. Congress had passed a law instructing the President to seize certain ships going to France. But the instructions issued to the Navy by President Adams changed that to include certain ships that were either going to or coming from France. A ship was seized coming from France. So the seizure followed the Presidential order, but violated the Law passed by Congress, which only involved ships going to France. On appeal, the case came before the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Marshall wrote, "On an appeal to the circuit court this sentence was reversed, because the Flying Fish was on a voyage from, not to, a French port, and was therefore, had she even been an American vessel, not liable to capture on the high seas."

And by writing this, Chief Justice Marshall provides us today with the answer to a question which was never even asked when the Founders wrote the Constitution, because it was obvious to everybody then that Acts of Congress were more authoritative than anything the President might want to do. Congress makes the laws, the President faithfully executes them. And if he fails to do so, Congress can remove him from office.

One scholar described the case like this: "But Chief Justice Marshall wrote that even in his capacity as commander in chief, the president could not authorize a military officer to perform illegal acts. Only Congress can make laws, Marshall argued, and regardless of the fact that the president may have ordered his subordinate officer to perform an illegal act, that act was still illegal, and the officer performing that act was responsible for his behavior. Not even a military officer, Marshall wrote, could use the 'instruction of the executive' as an excuse for performing an illegal act."


The Justice Department has mischaracterized the nature of the Little v. Barreme decision, when it incorrectly said that the basis for this decision was that the President had "gone beyond the terms of the statute," and thus had merely over-reached his authority.

The exact words of the Justice Department are, "The Supreme Court held that the orders given by the President could not authorize a seizure beyond the terms of the statute and therefore that the seizure of the ship not in fact bound to a French port was unlawful. See 6 U.S. at 177-78"


This incorrect explanation is based either on a misreading of the decision or deliberate willingness to mislead the casual reader, because the decision itself clearly states that the basis for the decision against the President was that he had violated the statute, by ignoring a specific limitation on his authority, not merely over-reached it, by "going beyond its terms."

Marshall wrote, "But when it is observed that the general clause of the first section of the 'act, which declares that such vessels may be seized, and may be prosecuted in any district or circuit court, which shall be holden within or for the district where the seizure shall be made,' obviously contemplates a seizure within the United States; and that the fifth section gives a special authority to seize on the high seas, and limits that authority to the seizure of vessels bound or sailing to a French port, the legislature seem to have prescribed [6 U.S. 170, 178] that the manner in which this law shall be carried into execution, was to exclude a seizure of any vessel not bound to a French port."

Thus we see that that basis of deciding LITTLE v. BARREME was that the President had ignored a specific limitation on his authority, not that he had merely over-reached it.

These observations lead us to this obvious conclusion: In the absence of a Congressional limitation, the Executive may exercise reasonable use of his Inherent Powers as head of the Executive Branch and Commander-in-Chief of the Military. But Congress may impose upon the President whatever limitations it may choose, under its Inherent Powers to enact all Federal laws.

Legislative power always supersedes Executive power. The tail must not wag the dog. If you doubt this, please re-read the Constitution at

Blessings to you. May God help us all. And may God bless America!

The HTML version of this message, with more links, is located at

UPDATE Dec. 11, 2006 - Please see this same basic idea, from a different perspective, written by libertarian congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) at
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Rev. Bill McGinnis is an Internet Christian minister, writer and publisher. He is Director of, a small private think tank in Alexandria, Virginia, and all of its related websites, including (more...)
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