Checks And Balances

Sandra Day O'Connor, Supreme Court Justice
This commentary was written by Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

Finally, on this day we remember that tiny group who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to do what no one else of their day thought possible: defeat the greatest military power in the world and form their own nation.

Reading Ron Chernow's excellent new biography of Alexander Hamilton has reminded me of one part of their story that is often forgotten: just how much some of them disliked each other and how suspicious all of them were of human nature. Because of that they were determined that no one of them and no part of their new government would ever corner all the power. They had united to throw out the British, but they almost went to war among themselves over how to divide that power. The way Madison saw it, you wouldn't need a government if men were angels, and if the governors were angels, you wouldn't need controls or restraints on them. But they were dealing with men, not angels, and so they devised the ingenious system of checks and balances.

As I was thinking about their remarkable insight into human behavior, I wondered who among us they would have admired. Here's my guess: Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, for one. When the court ruled last week that even prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have a right to their day in court, she wrote, 'A state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation's citizens.' The founders would have recognized that she was speaking their language -- a good thing for us to recognize, as well, on this fine day.

By Bob Schieffer