Sen. Len Jordan, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1962 to 1972, was a rugged individualist who used his own brain and moral compass in representing the state of Idaho. Unlike our current officeholders, Jordan was unafraid to stand up to a president who abused his power.
Jordan was a conservative Republican who supported Pres. Richard Nixon most of the time, but not when he thought Nixon was wrong or had overstepped his constitutional authority. Unlike the presidential lap dogs that now represent our state, Jordan set his own course on matters of principle.
The senator voted against two of Nixon’s nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court, having determined in his own mind that they were not qualified. He was joined by over a dozen Republican senators on both votes. That would not happen in the present climate where senators are mere flunkies, doing as they are told by the executive branch.
Just before he retired at the end of 1972, Jordan led an effort in the Senate to protect congressional power over the nation’s purse strings from presidential overreach. That effort resulted in passage of the law that has played a significant role in the present Ukraine scandal.
Jordan objected to Nixon’s impoundment of funds appropriated by Congress for a variety of programs, particularly for public works projects in Idaho. After what he saw as Nixon’s repeated violation of the constitutional power of Congress to raise and spend public funds, Jordan said “enough.” In October 1972, Jordan introduced legislation to limit a president’s ability to withhold the spending of money lawfully appropriated by act of Congress.
Jordan’s amendment was approved by a 46-28 Senate vote on Oct. 13, 1972, despite intense resistance by Nixon’s forces. The president practically threw the kitchen sink at Jordan, but he stood firm throughout an often-bitter fight.
I had been allowed to accompany Jordan to the Senate floor to help during the debate--the first time during my three years with him. It was a thrilling experience to watch my boss stand up for constitutional principles--separation of powers, checks and balances--against tough odds. Unfortunately, that kind of courage has become a thing of the past.
The bill containing Jordan’s amendment passed the Senate, was watered down in the House and sent to the president’s desk in a milder form. The spark lit by Jordan resulted in passage of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which restored the constitutional balance between the president and Congress on spending matters. The president could no longer impound appropriated funds with impunity.
President Trump’s impoundment of $390 million in military aid desperately needed by Ukraine to fend off Russian aggression was a violation of the Impoundment Control Act. It also was contrary to our Constitution’s division of governmental power. Two of the administration’s budget officials resigned rather than being a part of the scheme.
Yet, our senators have barely raised a peep about the president’s withholding of the Ukraine defense funds. Nor have they spoken out about the diversion of critical defense-related funds to build a largely useless border wall. When our senators will not stand up for constitutional principles, it is time to start worrying about the integrity of our governmental system. We sorely need people of principle like the late Len Jordan to stand up for us in Washington.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice and a former Idaho attorney general.