CWU News

Panelists Agree Public Vigilance is Best Way to Protect Liberties

A panel of jurists, legal experts, and a first amendment advocate, hosted by Central Washington University, agreed Wednesday the most effective checks on overreach by any branch of government, including the President of the United States, are public pressure and the balance of power established in the federal constitution.


“There’s a lot of rhetoric that says the president can do what he wants but as a legal matter and a practical matter, that’s simply not true,” said panelist Lisa Marshall Manheim, a University of Washington Law School professor.


Manheim was joined on the panel, entitled, “Balancing Act: How the Federal and State Constitutions Protect Freedom and Justice,” by U.S. District Court senior judge Robert Lasnik, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez, and Rowland Thompson, executive director of the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington.


The purpose of the panel [which can be viewed here:], according to CWU President James L. Gaudino, who served as moderator, was to allow the campus community an opportunity to discuss with legal experts political and legal concerns, and anxieties, that have been expressed by many students, faculty, and staff in the aftermath of the most recent presidential election.


Manheim, who teaches constitutional law, noted that it’s nearly impossible for any president to unilaterally take action in many cases without the consent of all of the branches of government.


“If he doesn’t have Congress with him, if he doesn’t have the courts with him, and if he doesn’t have the vast bureaucracy with him, he can’t accomplish much,” she said.


Gonzalez, however, noted that while the president can generally only act when given the authority to do so by Congress, there are instances where a president has acted unilaterally using an executive order, which have been upheld by the court system. He mentioned President Franklin Roosevelt’s order relocating many Japanese Americans to remote internment camps as an example.


Lasnik noted that whether someone thinks an action, such as an executive order, is an overreach of constitutional authority depends on the person’s political perspective.

“You might like a strong president who does such things,” he said. “It’s all part of the ebb and flow of power in different directions.”


Lasnik, however, said at the federal level the constitution is designed to keep judges independent by providing them with lifetime appointments, salaries that can’t be reduced, and no mandatory retirement age. He said therefore federal courts can act independently and have stopped presidential executive orders that aren’t consistent with the constitution.


Thompson said the best defense of constitutional rights is an independent press that helps inform the public about public issues. He said the challenge today is that there are so many voices available on the internet, including many that don’t provide credible information.


“You need to be absolutely certain you are getting news from trusted media,” he said, adding that he believed larger reputable media operations such as the Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the New York Times “will give you unvarnished facts.


“The responsibility you have is to guard the republic and the way to do that is to have informed sources,” he said.


Media contact: Richard Moreno, director of content development, 509-963-2714,


—February 15, 2017