The title, of course, is ancient Roman – tribuni plebis. Tribune of the Plebes. The common folk. You know: you and me. While the title Tribune was applied through Roman history to a variety of offices and functions, the part I’m most concerned with is the actual tribuni plebis. Those charged with protecting the people from the Ruling Class.
In the Roman Republic there were ten Tribunes, one for each of the Roman tribes and they had the power of legislative veto and ius intercessionis – they could veto Senate legislation and they could intervene to protect any commoner. That isn’t exactly what I have in mind for an American Tribune because I also take a bit from the Roman Censor – who was periodically elected to look after public morals and how the officials were conducting their offices. I just want one Tribune and here’s the powers I want it to have:
- The ius intercessionis: I want the Tribune to be able to intervene in any federal prosecution and simply annul the charges against the accused, prior to or after conviction. It isn’t a pardon (though it would work out to one given our Constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy): it just releases the accused and prohibits the government from prosecuting over the crimes charged at the time ius intercessionis is invoked.
- The Tribune is empowered to investigate any elected or appointed official of the federal government. No elected or appointed official can refuse access by agents of the Tribune to any federal document or property: the investigative power of the Tribune is to be absolute, not subject to review or check, no official can refuse a Tribune’s demand for documents or access. For appointed officials (the bureaucrats) the Tribune would have power to prosecute (with a jury trial) and punish without recourse to federal appeals courts. For elected officials, the Tribune presents the evidence to Congress and calls for expulsion (of Congress members) or impeachment (of Executive or Judicial office holders). The Tribune would not have the power to investigate State or local officials, nor any citizen who isn’t employed by the federal government. The Tribune is a watchdog on the federal government, nothing more.
I’d have the Tribune elected in odd numbered years by national popular vote with a limit of one term per Tribune who cannot seek another federal office until seven years after leaving office. The election would be held on the second Tuesday of December, the Tribune taking office at the stroke of midnight, New Years Day with a four year term. The Tribune would be limited to a staff of no more than 100, the budget provided by a set tax which can’t be reduced or abolished but which does rise indexed to inflation to keep the budget stable in real terms (it wouldn’t really require much: no more than a few million dollars a year; we could probably fund it by a penny tax on the sale of shoes or some such).
What I want here – and others can modify my idea – is a person, elected, who has no other role than to check up on the government. That is all the office is empowered to do. It can’t be interfered with by other branches, it would be very difficult to bribe, it can’t be used as a launching pad for a different office as the gap between running for a new office is long. What is wanted is a looming threat over all officials of government…that their game will be exposed. True, a Tribune with a small staff couldn’t find all problems…but it could find a lot of them, and merely exposing them would often be sufficient to force reforms. And it would also serve as a fallback for Americans oppressed by their own government – there would be a lot less chance of trespassers being held in solitary confinement or people being entrapped in a FBI scam to kidnap a governor if there was an official who could, just on their say so, stop the whole thing in its tracks.
We had thought the checks and balances of the Constitution were sufficient. They weren’t. To secure justice for ourselves and punishment for corrupt officials, we need a new power in the land…one which only we, the people, can raise up and who has no other job than to glare at those who would rob our substance and oppress us.