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Friday, December 30

EXECUTIVE, n.

An officer of the Government, whose duty it is to enforce the wishes of the legislative power until such time as the judicial department shall be pleased to pronounce them invalid and of no effect. Following is an extract from an old book entitled, The Lunarian Astonished -- Pfeiffer & Co., Boston, 1803:
LUNARIAN: Then when your Congress has passed a law it goes directly to the Supreme Court in order that it may at once be known whether it is constitutional?
TERRESTRIAN: O no; it does not require the approval of the Supreme Court until having perhaps been enforced for many years somebody objects to its operation against himself -- I mean his client. The President, if he approves it, begins to execute it at once.
LUNARIAN: Ah, the executive power is a part of the legislative. Do your policemen also have to approve the local ordinances that they enforce?
TERRESTRIAN: Not yet -- at least not in their character of constables. Generally speaking, though, all laws require the approval of those whom they are intended to restrain.
LUNARIAN: I see. The death warrant is not valid until signed by the murderer.
TERRESTRIAN: My friend, you put it too strongly; we are not so consistent.
LUNARIAN: But this system of maintaining an expensive judicial machinery to pass upon the validity of laws only after they have long been executed, and then only when brought before the court by some private person -- does it not cause great confusion?
TERRESTRIAN: It does.
LUNARIAN: Why then should not your laws, previously to being executed, be validated, not by the signature of your President, but by that of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
TERRESTRIAN: There is no precedent for any such course.
LUNARIAN: Precedent. What is that?
TERRESTRIAN: It has been defined by five hundred lawyers in three volumes each. So how can any one know?

From Ambrose Bierce's "Devil's Dictionary", of course! Who else has such a mocking, biting wit? ... although, come to think of it, I seem to recall having had an almost exactly parallel conversation with a lawyer friend, who was trying to explain United States constitutional law to me, in, of all things, a "hello" thread. More than a hundred years between the two pieces of writing, and still stranding on exactly the same shoal?!? Seems "self-evident" might, after all, not be nearly as universal as was originally envisioned ...

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