08/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Congressional Oversight: It's a Tough Job but Someone Has to Do It

I'm watching with interest the struggle over whether Karl Rove and other White House advisors have to testify before Congress. Just yesterday, U.S. District Judge John Bates ruled that there's no legal basis for the administration's argument that White House aides are immune from congressional subpoenas and that Bush's former legal counsel, Harriet Miers, must appear before Congress.

As reported by Matt Apuzzo of the Associated Press:

Bates, who was appointed to the bench by Bush, issued a 93-page opinion that strongly rejected the administration's legal arguments. He noted that the executive branch could not point to a single case in which courts held that White House aides were immune from congressional subpoenas.

"That simple yet critical fact bears repeating: the asserted absolute immunity claim here is entirely unsupported by existing case law," Bates wrote.

While this ruling can be appealed, its strong and definitive language implies that such an appeal might not succeed. Nor should it.

The founding leaders of our country believed in a three-part sharing of governmental power, with each branch jealously watching the actions of the other two. What a concept! This separation of powers led to the ingenious, although often unwieldy, system of checks and balances that is integral to shared authority. No one branch of the U.S. government should have supremacy over the other two.

So, when leaders in Congress abdicate their oversight responsibility -- as happened from 2000 through 2006 -- and give the executive branch free rein, bad things happen. Let us count some of the ways: waging an unnecessary war and mismanaging another one; injecting partisan politics and cronyism into the workings of the Justice Department, the EPA, and other governmental agencies and greatly reducing their effectiveness; allowing Big Oil and Energy to write our energy policies in secret; permitting the erosion of what once were thought to be constitutionally protected civil liberties; disregarding international laws regarding torture and prisoner treatment; installing right wing conservative judges in the Supreme Court -- the list could continue for pages.

Oversight shouldn't be impacted by partisanship, although in this cynical atmosphere I feel like PollyAnna for saying so. If the next Congress, of which I hope to be a member, and the next president are from the same party, Congress still must provide its mandated checks, period.

When you're elected to Congress, you take a vow to uphold the Constitution and its system of checks and balances. That vow doesn't say, "Unless it's politically uncomfortable."