Sunday, October 26, 2008

Palin Knows Constitutional Law Better Than Does Biden

If I hear anyone in the media claim again that Palin is an inferior vice presidential candidate to Biden, I will just scream. The fact of the matter is that, time after time, Palin has demosntrated herself far more worthy to be next-in-line to the president than Joe the Gaffer. Vincent Carroll of the Rocky Mountain News today provides another example of where Palin beats Biden hands down: knowledge of the U.S. Constitution. And the funny thing is that Palin, the journalism major, knows more about the law than Biden, who graduated from law school:

Now that the Rocky Mountain News has devoted a page-and-a-half spread to dissecting Sarah Palin's answer to a third-grader regarding the duties of the vice president - concluding she "bobble(d)" the query and her answer was "shaky" in terms of accuracy - let's stop for a moment and look in the other direction. In the spirit of fairness, let's recall Joe Biden's description of the same job during the vice presidential debate at the beginning of this month.

According to Biden, "Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the executive branch. He works in the executive branch. . . . And the primary role of the vice president of the United States of America is to support the president of the United States of America (and) . . . to preside over the Senate, only in a time when in fact there's a tie vote. The Constitution is explicit.

"The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote."

Shaky? No, worse. To begin with, Article I concerns the legislative branch. For the establishment of the executive branch, you have to go to Article II. As it happens, both articles mention the vice president, but Article I is where the relationship to the Senate is laid out: "The Vice President of the United States shall be the President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided."

Biden was also misleading, you'll notice, in saying the vice president presides over the Senate "only when there is a tie vote." The Constitution clearly says he is Senate president, period. But modern vice presidents don't often choose to preside because it's so rare that their vote is needed.

Palin, in answering a child, slightly overstated the power of the vice president vis a vis the Senate by using the words "in charge." (Her answer at the debate was hardly a model of clarity, either.) Biden's answer at the debate mischaracterized Article I and the vice president's status as Senate president. And this is a fellow who moonlights teaching constitutional law.

Is it likely that neither has actually read the relevant passage of Article I or reviewed the history of vice presidential duties? Of course not. They both know what the vice president does. But since Palin's response is deemed worthy of close inspection, we certainly wouldn't want to neglect the imprecision of the other side.

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