Celebrate President's Day By Remembering The Wisdom Of Our Founding Fathers - And Response

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday, Feb. 17, is President’s Day. The holiday was originally designed to honor our first president, George Washington, and was celebrated on his birthday, Feb. 12. In an effort to give the public more leisure time, in 1971, President Richard Nixon officially designated certain federal holidays to be celebrated on Mondays. This included President Washington’s. 

Since it no longer occurs on President Washington’s birthday, the holiday has come to be referred to as President’s Day. Some also see it as celebrating President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Feb.22.

However we celebrate the holiday, we should all see it as a reminder of how the framers of our Constitution, to protect our personal liberty, designed a government where the three branches of government would be separate and coequal, but also interdependent. This is especially pertinent in today’s environment when many of our fellow citizens have only a superficial understanding of how our federal judiciary functions and its role in our democratic republic.

The powers and responsibilities of the president are set out in Article II of the Constitution. Among those powers are the “Power,…by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, [to] appoint … Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States…” Under this delegated power, the president appoints federal judges. But this appointment power is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. 

Only the president has this power of appointment. Without presidents exercising the power to make appointments to the federal judiciary, there would be no federal judges. It is impossible to imagine our free society existing without a functioning federal judiciary. 

Even after the appointment process, and even though independent in its decision making, the judiciary must still rely upon action by the executive branch to fulfill its own role in our  democratic republic. When the judiciary issues an order, it lacks the authority to enforce the order. It must rely upon the executive branch to do so. And for the judiciary to carry out its responsibility to enforce federal criminal laws, it must depend upon federal prosecutors acting under the authority of the executive branch to bring and prosecute cases. It must depend upon the U.S. Marshal Service, an agency of the executive branch, for bringing criminal defendants to court and for protection of the public and the judiciary. The judiciary must also depend upon the executive branch to provide and maintain the very courthouses from which the judiciary operates. These are just a few examples of the way in which the federal judiciary relies on the executive branch.

So, as we celebrate President’s Day, let us also celebrate the profound wisdom of the framers of the Constitution that bequeathed to us the government of divided, but interdependent, branches as one means of keeping us free. 

Curtis L. Collier
United States District Judge
Chair, Eastern District of Tennessee
Civics and Outreach Committee

Travis R. McDonough
United States District Judge
Chattanooga Subcommittee Chair
Civics and Outreach Committee 

* * *

I applaud the timely opinion piece by Federal Justices Collier and McDonough celebrating Presidents' Day and especially the wisdom of our founding fathers.  However, these honorable gentlemen may want to apologize to all the hardworking teachers of American History out there who have been diligently teaching their students that Washington's birthday is Feb. 22 and Lincoln's is Feb. 12.

Speight Overman


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