West Virginia senator Robert Byrd usually busies himself diverting a disproportionate amount of federal expenditures into his state (and thereby getting an increasing number of public works named after him there).
Every once in a while, though, he erupts in a fit of constitutionalism, correctly calling attention to some abuse of the clearly-delineated restrictions on federal power.
For example, yesterday the senator criticized the Obama administration for violating the constitutional separation of powers, as Politico reported:
Byrd's criticism appears to be on the mark, but in my opinion his motives are not entirely pure.
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the longest-serving Democratic senator, is criticizing President Obama’s appointment of White House “czars” to oversee federal policy, saying these executive positions amount to a power grab by the executive branch.Byrd also wants Obama to limit claims of executive privilege while also ensuring that the White House czars don’t have authority over Cabinet officers confirmed by the Senate.
In a letter to Obama on Wednesday, Byrd complained about Obama’s decision to create White House offices on health reform, urban affairs policy, and energy and climate change. Byrd said such positions “can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances. At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials.”
While it's rare for Byrd to criticize a president in his own party, Byrd is a stern constitutional scholar who has always stood up for the legislative branch in its role in checking the power of the White House. Byrd no longer holds the powerful Appropriations chairmanship, so his criticism does not carry as much weight these days. Byrd repeatedly clashed with the Bush administration over executive power, and it appears that he's not limiting his criticism to Republican administrations.
The third paragraph is key: "Byrd is a stern constitutional scholar who has always stood up for the legislative branch in its role in checking the power of the White House."
In other words, "constitutional scholar" Byrd stands up for the Constitution only when the power of the legislative branch is threatened.
You'll rarely (if ever) hear his thundering protests when Congress itself routinely steps out of its constitutional sandbox.
That said, we'll take whatever we can get.