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Floyd M. Riddick: Senate Parliamentarian

Floyd M. Riddick

"…now boys, do you think the President is right in going in this direction?"

Former Senate parliamentarian Floyd Riddick ponders whether the drafters of the Constitution envisioned the Senate to be a full-time counsel to the president as well as a legislative body.

RIDDICK: I've often questioned if the Senate ever developed into the institution that our forefathers in drafting the Constitution expected it to develop into. As I get it, from reading the Constitutional history and the records of the Senate, our forefathers anticipated the Senate to be a counsel to the president of the United States as well as a legislative body. It was sort of anticipated that it would stay in twelve months of the year, as opposed to just being a legislative body primarily to initiate legislation. And I'm often inclined to think if it hadn't been for the experience at the beginning of our Senate that we might have developed that way as opposed to being just a co-equal branch of the Congress, to just write legislation.

You know, when Washington came up with his Indian treaty to counsel with the Senate, I think he anticipated that the Senate would be sitting at all times, and that when he had major problems he could come in and consult with them to see if "now boys, do you think the President is right in going in this direction?" But when they referred the treaty to a committee, Washington was alleged to have said, he'd be damned if he ever expected to come up here again to present his problems to the Senate. I think right then we began to depart from the concept of a counsel to the president, and we developed in an entirely different way from what we would have, had the Senate accorded Washington by advising him on the spot, and let him go on and resolve his treaty.

RITCHIE: Do you think the Senate could ever fill that advice role?

RIDDICK: Not anymore, I don't. I think with such institutions, it's rather difficult to change overnight in any direction, and if you build an institution and it develops a long history, it would be hard to turn from that direction to another direction. You'll move gradually one way or the other, but I doubt that there would be a chance of it ever moving as a counsel to the president. The Senate does still counsel in the case of treaties, but it almost works independently of the president in that regard; and the Senate no more so than the House tries to work with the president in enacting the kind of a legislative program that he wants.

RITCHIE: I just read an article that set as a maxim that a president of the United States should advise with his party leaders in Congress on every issue, "especially when he doesn't want to."

RIDDICK: That might be a good point! I don't know that the country would be any better off, it's hard to say. It's amazing the direction an institution takes over a long period of time in the absence of a completely detailed design on a drawing board as to what you expect of it. And when the Constitution as it was drafted, so vague and general, that within that framework the legislature could go in most any direction. It's true that we are taught that we were conceived to have three independent arms of the government, but there's no defined-detailed separation of power, and I doubt that if you could have ever drafted anything that would have worked. I've watched this in the field of general parliamentary law, working with different institutions when they draw up a constitution and by-laws; they can't anticipate what all is expected of them to begin with, because they have never had any experience, and then they begin to amend their constitution and by-laws and move in various directions which are often completely different, in my opinion, from that which the founding fathers of that particular institution anticipated when they created that organization.

RITCHIE: Well, one thing that we have definitely established is that the Senate is a complex machinery . . .

RIDDICK: Oh, you can bet your boots!