Bench Memos

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Foolishness Indeed


The title of George Will’s column today is “Line-Item Foolishness,” and to save you time and trouble I can point out which foolish parts of the column you may safely skip, as they add nothing to (and sometimes detract a good deal from) Will’s argument against the line-item veto.

The column has eleven paragraphs.  Skip paragraphs 5, 6, 7, and 10, and you have a pretty decent case against the practical utility of the line-item veto.  But the paragraphs just mentioned venture into constitutional argumentation that is underdeveloped, confused, and historically tendentious.  Will’s silliest argument (in paragraph 10) is that we know the Constitution establishes legislative supremacy because Article I is longer than Article II.  This is actually evidence for the opposite proposition–that the framers were concerned chiefly about restraining legislative power and so wrote grants of power and limits on power with more detail in Article I, while Article II is more open-ended in order to attain one of the Constitution’s most notable objects, the world’s first truly powerful republican executive.  As Madison put it in Federalist 48, the chief failing of all previous republics had been the tendency of the legislative power to “draw[] all power into its impetuous vortex.”


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