You Know, Supreme Executive Power Doesn’t Derive From Some Farcical Aquatic Ceremony

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It's about time somebody did something about the unchecked growth of executive power in this country, and although citing Monty Python is not going to be enough, we need to start somewhere.

A woman in Florida is suing Gov. Rick Scott, arguing that he didn't have the authority to issue an executive order that replaced the existing rulemaking process with one of his own and suspended all existing rules while a new agency reviews them. Counsel for the plaintiff – a blind woman who says she can't get her food stamps, generally not high on the list of people you want to litigate against – say that the order violated the separation-of-powers doctrine by usurping legislative authority. Oh no it didn't, the governor's lawyers argue, because regardless of what the rule used to be, it has now "become common practice for chief executives to review and assert control over agency regulatory activity." (They also seem to start a lot of wars on their own these days, but one thing at a time.)

I don't know about the separation-of-powers argument, because although administrative agencies do legislate in a sense, they are also part of the executive branch. The lines between the branches are rarely as clear as they seemed in civics class, though, so there may be something to this. But I'm more interested right now in the Monty Python argument that the plaintiff's attorneys made in a recent brief, which makes fun of what they call the governor's theory of "supreme executive power" by citing the peasants in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail":

Now we see the violence inherent in the system

As you know, or should know, the peasants' argument is that legitimate power is supposed to derive from the consent of the governed (the peasants use the term "mandate from the masses," but they're trying to make them sound socialist, or anarcho-syndicalist, anyway). They are therefore skeptical of Arthur's claim that he has the right to tell them what to do because somebody lying in a pond handed him a sharp object. They make this point in a number of different ways, all of which you should go listen to if you haven't already done so.

As usual, the Pythons were on to something extremely profound here, even if the points are being made in the film by people who push around filth for a living. The guy in charge of a nation's pointy objects should be responsible to the people of that nation for how he uses them, and the more mystical his explanation is for the power he's asserting, the more skeptical we ought to be. For example, personally I think the President's argument that dropping bombs on other countries is not "hostilities" makes about as much sense as the lady-of-the-lake theory of legitimate executive power. Whether or not the situation in Florida is that nonsensical I guess remains to be seen.

I'm not sure the current executive in Florida, or in Washington, will pay any more attention than King Arthur did (he just kept telling Dennis the Peasant to shut up, which seems to be the response to all whistleblowers), but I like the argument anyway.