Wednesday, November 7, 2007

What If? A Tale of Two Countries, Pakistan and U.S.

Images out of Pakistan the last few days are striking, with lawyers in business suits hurling tear gas shells back at police and then being rounded up and jailed.

General Pervez Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule last Saturday, including his abolishment of a Supreme Court which has been increasingly critical of his positions on human rights and the validity of his own election, sparked this reaction from the bar. As one prominent Islamabad lawyer, Harvard-educated Babar Sattar, says, "How do you function as a lawyer when the law is what the general says it is?"

And how is Musharraf attempting to justify the imposition of martial law? You guessed it - he needs additional power to combat terrorism.

Sound familiar? America is not the only country with leaders who pander to fear in order to consolidate their power and limit individual rights.

The crucial point is that it's against this sort of autocratic tyranny for which constitutions are built. America's independent judiciary has long reined-in the executive and legislature when they have exceeded their bounds.

Surely if the President of the United States were to claim that he can act beyond the scope of limitations placed upon him by Congress and the Constitution the Supreme Court will slap him down rather than allow him to continue on the path to the sort of tyranny we are now seeing in Pakistan....

Or will it? The positions taken by the newest as well as some of the longer serving members of the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of Executive Power gives one pause.

If we ever need a reminder on why our Constitution mandates a system of checks and balances, and how very much we depend upon the Supreme Court to prevent the executive from accumulating too much power, we need only look to the images of lawyers at the barricades in Pakistan today, where a powerful executive with a military at his command is making a mockery of the Rule of Law.