Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III believes the greatest constitutional crisis of this century is the Congress' usurpation of powers constitutionally designated for the executive branch.

He cited the War Powers Act, which limits the power of the president to engage the United States in war. The act sends a dangerous signal to our enemies and our allies about the United States' uncertain leadership. America's allies may no longer believe this country is able to keep the promises of protection and assistance it has made to them, he said.Meese's comments were made during a banquet in the Salt Palace Saturday night in honor of Meese's "defense of the Constitution." The banquet was sponsored by the National Center for Constitutional Studies. The center honored Meese with its second annual "Defender of the Constitution" award.

The award was presented by W. Cleon Skousen, first recipient of the award.

Two groups of protesters marched with placards in front of the Salt Palace for part of the evening. The first group was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union, said Lisa Carricaburu, one of the protesters. The second group consisted of college students.

Four in the second group were arrested for trespassing, Carricaburu said. The students were standing on the sidewalk in front of the Salt Palace talking when police arrested them, she said.

Meese addressed his constitutional concerns to an audience of nearly 400 people. The banquet was held on the 201st birthday of the signing of the Constitution.

He also criticized the "micro-management of the executive branch through the budget process." Monitoring the branch through its budget hamstrings conscientious leaders in the White House, he said.

He decried congressional oversight hearings and information requests for non-legislative purposes that needlessly tie up the time of hundreds of government workers.

The authors of the Constitution had a keen sense of a need for limited government, he said. They limited government through the separation of powers. The men recognized that an accumulation of power in too few hands is justly defined as tyranny, he said.

Skousen praised Meese for trying to return to the states the responsibilities constitutionally designated for the states. "They are responsibilities assigned to the state, not the federal government," Skousen said.

He lauded Meese's efforts to balance a criminal's rights against those of the public. For too long, criminals' rights were given precedent over the public's rights, Skousen said. Meese fought to correct the imbalance.