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There Is No Constitutional Obligation to Listen to Speeches

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Benjamin-Netanyahu_2058844b

Imagine Alan Dershowitz wrote an op-ed demanding that every last Democrat attend Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress.  Now imagine that it’s even dumber than you expected.  Not easy, I know.  Amazingly, you’re still underestimating how dumb it is:

As a liberal Democrat who twice campaigned for President Barack Obama

One line in and virtually any chance of a decent argument is gone. He doesn’t even have the decency to throw in an apocryphal cocktail party.

I am appalled that some Democratic members of Congress are planning to boycott the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 3 to a joint session of Congress. At bottom, this controversy is not mainly about protocol and politics—it is about the constitutional system of checks and balances and the separation of powers.

Right — it’s not about Dershowitz’s substantive belief in the near-infallibility of the Israeli state. It’s about neutral principles of constitutional law. That sounds plausible!

Under the Constitution, the executive and legislative branches share responsibility for making and implementing important foreign-policy decisions. Congress has a critical role to play in scrutinizing the decisions of the president when these decisions involve national security, relationships with allies and the threat of nuclear proliferation.

It’s nice that Dershowitz is taking advantage of his emeritus status to re-read some junior high civics textbooks. Alas, none of these trusims bears the slightest relevance to the question of whether members of Congress are obligated to attend the speech of a public official they believe is trying to undermine American foreign policy.

Congress has every right to invite, even over the president’s strong objection, any world leader or international expert who can assist its members in formulating appropriate responses to the current deal being considered with Iran regarding its nuclear-weapons program.

Are we going to get to points that are actually in any dispute at some point?

Indeed, it is the responsibility of every member of Congress to listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu

Finally! Alas, once we leave banality we leave defensibility.

What the president objects to is not that Mr. Netanyahu will speak to Congress, but the content of what he intends to say. This constitutes a direct intrusion on the power of Congress and on the constitutional separation of powers.

Not only should all members of Congress attend Mr. Netanyahu’s speech, but President Obama—as a constitutional scholar—should urge members of Congress to do their constitutional duty of listening to opposing views in order to check and balance the policies of the administration.

This is absolutely insane. Congress has the authority to invite speakers. Individual members of Congress can support the choice of speaker and the content of the speaker’s message. The president can object to the choice of speaker and the content of the speaker’s message. Individual members of Congress can object to the choice of speaker and the content of the speakers message, and express this view by not attending. Members of Congress have no explicit or implicit constitutional “obligation” to listen to any particular speaker. There is absolutely no “intrusion” on congressional (or presidential) powers going on here. There are public officials expressing opposing views.

By the way, if members of Congress has an obligation to “listen to opposing views,” does Congress also have an obligation to invite a political leader who is critical of Israeli policy? All previous evidence suggests Dershowitz will forget his “principle” that all views must be presented within a given forum as soon as the alternative view differs from his.

Fortunately — after reiterating his banal and irrelevant assertions that Congress has authority over some aspects of foreign policy — Dershowitz can’t even get through the op-ed without making it clear that he doesn’t believe his own bullshit:

One should walk out on tyrants, bigots and radical extremists, as the United States did when Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust and called for Israel’s destruction at the United Nations.

So one has a solemn obligation to listen to a foreign leader’s views unless Alan Dershowitz finds them particularly objectionable. This is, in its own way, a kind of “principle,” but it has nothing to do with free speech or checks and balances or the separation of powers.

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