On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his H.R. 3676, which would amend this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to clear up ambiguity about allowing the executive branch to be able to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without due process guaranteed by the Constitution.
We recently ran an op-ed from Landry on the Due Process Guarantee Act – Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans. Landry wants the law to clarify that if ever there is a need to hold Americans without writ of habeas corpus, the power should reside in Congress—not the president.
I called Landry, a Republican tea party freshman representing Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District, this morning to ask him to further elaborate on why he believes this amendment is needed and what would he say to critics trying to characterize it as political grandstanding against an incumbent Democratic president during an election year.
“First of all, this has nothing to do with our current president or anything that he has done or will do. This has to do with presidential power. The president has said that he has trouble with this part of the National Defense Authorization Act, as well,” Landry said. “The question is whether we are going to allow the executive to have this kind of power.”
“Congress represents the people and should be the ones making this kind of decisions, not the executive,” he added. “We fought a revolution to assure that we wouldn’t have a dictator, monarch or one-man-rule. We don’t leave issues that strike at the very heart of our Constitution in the hands of one man.”
Landry’s bill is the latest volley in a power struggle as old as our nation between the legislative and executive branches. History nerds like me will note that the old Whig Party emerged to blunt what opponents of President Andrew Jackson saw as usurpation of Congressional authority by the Executive.
The country’s first Republican president, former Whig Abraham Lincoln, suspended habeas corpus for secessionists during the Civil War. You don’t have to go back that far, however. It was also done by FDR, who rounded up Japanese-Americans and put them in internment camps during World War II.
Even more recently, we have Hamdi v. Rumsfeld in 2004, in which the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of habeas corpus for Yaser Esam Hamdi. Hamdi is an Arab man who was born in Louisiana that was captured in Afghanistan as an enemy combatant.
Landry doesn’t believe that there will never come a time in which an American citizen should be detained for a while without due process—only that it should be done strictly in extreme cases and that the president shouldn’t be the one deciding when it’s done.
“At the end of the day it’s like Benjamin Franklin said, if you give up liberty for security you will have neither liberty or security—that’s it in a nutshell,” Landry said.
The problems with the NDAA begs the question why Landry ever voted for it to start with.
I asked him, and he pointed out that he did so after entering his objection to it as is into the Congressional Record and with a commitment from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) that an amendment protecting due process for U.S citizens be allowed to come to a vote.
It’s likey that Landry will be successful in passing his bill, which has 62 bipartisan cosponsors including ultra-leftists like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and support from groups at the opposite end of the political spectrum, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“To me, that strikes as the graveness of this,” Landry said. “Think about the times when we can find something that we agree on. We might disagree on many things, but one thing that we all have on common is that we are all Americans and there are times when we must stand together to protect our liberties and freedom.”