Sun, Sep 29, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Limits to constitutional authority

By Su Yen-tu 蘇彥圖

This robs the separation of powers of its constitutional significance and allows those involved in politics to only have to care about their respective political parties while showing absolutely no regard for fidelity to the constitutional system.

If the lack of a robust parliamentary ethics law somehow can justify the president sticking his hands into issues of legislative self-rule, why would people not embrace authoritarian rule? It might outperform democracy in terms of efficient governance.


When former US president Richard Nixon was forced to resign over the Watergate scandal, he said in his defense: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

Two centuries earlier, former US president and particpant in the US constitutional convention James Madison famously wrote in the Federalist Papers arguing for ratification of the US Constitution: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

If there are limits to the use of Madisonian constitutionalism and if civic society is not vigilant enough to the power abuse disguised in noble causes, then regardless of how much the power elites may proclaim that they are respecting and following the constitution, really all they are following is the type of constitution that is devoid of any “red lines,” just like the one Nixon was referring to.

Su Yen-tu is an assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institutum Iurisprudentiae.

Translated by Drew Cameron

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