minutia press.
Contaminated branches

David posted about the FBI knowing about illegal steriods but not taking any action to prosecute the buff baseball injectors. You can even become governor of California if you admit to having taken illegal steriods, but don't dare hire an illegal nanny.

All this reminds me of the fantasy I was taught in Civics class: there are three independent branches of our government. But they don't really function as independently as we would like:

  • As David pointed out, the executive branch can decide not to prosecute based on a given law, thus dissing and making somewhat useless the legislative branch. Also, in time of "war" the executive branch can apparantly "arrest" people who they believe have broken some "law". Although I loathe terrorists as much as the next guy, I'd like to see our judicial branch press into action against those being "held" "indefinitely" instead of having our executive branch do all the work.
  • The judicial branch, especially the Supreme Court, can turn activist and rewrite laws based on interpretation. A sign of this is that the decisions are so darn close and are drawn on conservative/liberal lines. The most recent case that will no doubt end up that way is the issue of religious symbols in court rooms and other public places. The 10 commandments, for example, when appearing in a court room could give the impression that one might be found guilty for worshipping false idols or forgetting the Sabbath.
  • The legistative branch while passing laws seems sometimes to be above the law. Remember the floating checks scandal? Also they can subpoena people and essentially hold court to get to the bottom of some politically expedient issue.

It would be interesting to see how things would play out if the system worked as perhaps it should. Maybe we need some version of The Sims, say SimConstitution, in which you can tinker with the 3 branches and see what effect it has on society.


SimConstitution is a great idea! My law-school girlfriend would love it--she's a SimAddict.

Posted by: Rob LeGrand at March 8, 2005 10:28 AM

In an entirely hypothetical sense, having things work exactly and exclusively as described has a lot of appeal. But one of the strengths of our government is how it has defined itself, especially in the early years of the union. John Marshall, in Marbury v. Madison, took what looked to be a lose-lose judicial conundrum and turned it into a declaration of the authority of the Supreme Court. The authority of the Supreme Court to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional and the role of the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of the meaning of the Constitution are not inscribed in law anywhere. Nevertheless, today we view them as innate functions of the court. This is just one example of our government acting in a grey area undefined by the framework of government put together by the founders. Other examples are executive orders and, as you mentioned, congressional hearings.

Obviously, some of these grey-area functions provide more utility than others. Some could most likely be eliminated without a noticeable effect, while the removal of others might reverberate quite loudly. A simulation of the the three branches and how they worked would, indeed, be quite interesting.

Posted by: david. at March 8, 2005 10:53 AM