All this talk about Dick Cheney's ludicrous claim that he is both a member of the executive branch (so he can claim executive privilege for his secret energy meetings with oil and nuclear company executives) and not a member of the executive branch (so he doesn't have to comply to classified document requirements, in case he wants to oh out a covert CIA officer because her husband said true things about the case for the Iraq war) has gotten me thinking about an idea I have been kicking around for a while.
Prior to the 12th Amendment, the Electoral College runner up became Vice President. This was OK when the two men (and until at least 2009 it has always been and will always be two men) agreed on stuff, but was very awkward when they were political rivals (see John Adams vs. Thomas Jefferson). However, without this bitter rivalry, the alien and sedition acts wouldn't have been tested so early. In an age that is just as partisan and nasty as it was then (1990-2000s=1790s-1800s) I think this time it will actually work. This is especially true if the VP was to not be the president of the Senate (a default job the constitutional drafters gave him since they had no clue what to do with the VP) but rather, the head of the Justice Department.
The first attorney general was like Alberto Gonzales, aka just the president's lawyer, at first. However Edmund Randolph quickly saw that he needed to be able to intervene in cases on behalf of the US, not the president. Only one justice at the time agreed with him, James Iredell. Today, the Justice Department has grown far beyond Randolph's desk and now employs thousands of prosecutors & investigators, with broad powers.
Imagine if Bush had gotten the White House in 2000...but Al Gore was made VP/AG with a separate constitutional office and powers of his own. This would have likely prevented many of the scandals you see today, or at least drawn them out into the light of day much sooner before they became cancerous on the Administration. Such a fourth branch would have the power to check into wrongdoing not only of the executive branch, but also of the legislative branch. This also would have obviously prevented the US Attorney scandal since a bootlicker like Alberto Gonzales never would have gotten the second most electoral votes.
The current VP office can be as powerful as junior president for someone like Dick Cheney, or "not worth a bucket of warm piss" for someone like John Nance Garner. The voters don't know what power/role the president will give his vice president, which leaves the office either with little political influence or Dante's political purgatory from which they can run for the presidency or vanish into the night.
The American people deserve an independent Justice Department, and the only guarantee for that is my plan, given human nature. Americans deserve a VP who is ready to take over for the president should something terrible happen, and one who will be wholly independent of the Congress and the President.
Under the current system, someone like Cheney can create a secret shadow government, which can order civilian planes shot down (like he did on 9/11 with Lynne Cheney, and without George W. Bush) and who knows what else. After all, he doesn't want us to know.
But if we had a true fourth branch, which was separately elected from the President and Congress, we would ensure that partisanship does not go awry. After all, if the AG/VP started to investigate members of Congress/the White House for no reason, he could always be defunded/impeached.