Media Mention

Robert Shanks on A Democracy’s Constitution

March 17, 2020

Note: this piece was originally published in the Morning Consult, and was written by Checks & Balances member Robert Shanks. 

Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, led by Sen. Ron Johnson, have suddenly rediscovered their fascination in the Biden family’s connection to Ukraine. The timing and methods of their investigation deserve at least a raised eyebrow. By using their legislative offices to accuse someone of wrongdoing, they’re playing fast and loose with the rule of law and undermining American institutions.

The Constitution divided our government into three co-equal branches, creating a system of checks and balances to prevent any single individual or body from amassing unrestrained power and threatening the liberties retained by the people. One of those divisions gave judicial power to the courts alone — a provision Sen. Johnson et al. seem to have forgotten.

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to observe how difficult it is to replicate a political system like ours, and how fragile such a system is. Like many lawyers, I worked with the American Bar Association to help Russia and the other former Soviet republics draft Western-style constitutions and reform their judicial systems. In Moscow, a group of Russian judges described to me their system of “telephone justice”: After a sham trial, a senior political official would call to inform the judge what the verdict and sentence would be.

While less pernicious, the Homeland Security Committee’s non-judicial hounding of the Bidens is somewhat more honest: At least they’re not pretending to be a court of law, just a gaggle of shameless politicians. But as the Russian example teaches us, political shamelessness isn’t only unseemly — it’s dangerous.

Continue reading at Morning Consult.