Does anyone else think the State of the Union Address is on pretty tenuous constitutional ground? I’m no constitutional scholar, but here’s the relevant passage in the document:
“He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” – Article II, Section III
Ok, so first thing to do is check the history of the SOTU in Wikipedia. There we find that President Washington gave the first SOTU as a speech, but then Jefferson started writing it and mailing it to Congress, a practice that lasted until the 20th Century. Fascinating.
If you actually parse the text (say you’re a constitutional “originalist” like Scalia or Alito or Robers), the first thing that stands out is, “from time to time.” The tradition of doing it annually certainly fits the bill, but it is a little odd that the founding fathers didn’t specify more exactly.
It seems to me that the purpose of this passage was NOT to have the president give an annual address to the Congress (and the Nation), but rather to do set the congressional agenda, propose legislation, and write the federal budget. The speech itself is a red herring.
John Dickerson sort of gets at this in an article in Slate today, but he’s mostly focused on the silliness of the actual speech. Money quote:
Sticking to the big issues would also circumvent the wild spinning to put the best face on the budget Bush will deliver a few days later. That’s where the true domestic priorities are spelled out in more specific language that often directly contradicts the rhetoric of the speech. In a fantasy world, White House aides would hyperlink the text of the president’s speech to the line items in his budget.
I think the founding fathers would be pretty concerned with the “unitary executive” and “king in wartime” theories espoused by Justice Alito in his confirmation hearings. Overall, though, it seems like the trend toward increasing executive power is inescapable. Or, as the Professor likes to say, “people want a Czar.” Either way, tonight’s speech is a bit of a silly relic, and certainly seems like a perversion of consitutional intent. Not that I think it’s a bad idea. In fact I very much like the idea of the President giving an annual speech to the American people. But said speech seems to bear little or no resemblance to the specifications in Article II.