Which branch of government is responsible for executing a bill once it is passed by Congress and signed into law by the president? By name alone, the Executive Branch makes perfect sense as the answer. Unsurprisingly, the Constitution agrees, stating the Executive Branch will “take care that laws be faithfully executed.” Unfortunately, under President Barack Obama, many laws of the land are not being faithfully executed.
The transgressions that President Obama has committed began almost immediately after he was elected. As soon as the president moved into the White House, he ordered the Justice Department stop defending the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court. DOMA, which last year was deemed partially unconstitutional by a 5-4 Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor, defined marriage as a heterosexual union for the purpose of federal benefits and taxes, which didn’t comport with the President’s “evolving” philosophy.
It is unconscionable that political expediency and personal whims should trump the resolutions of our deliberative body. But DOMA was only the beginning.
The president’s next significant extralegal action occurred early in 2012, when the White House waived requirements to the 1996 welfare reform bill, The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.
This reform, widely considered the greatest compromise between Republicans and Democrats during the Clinton administration, is credited with eroding the “entitlement” view of welfare and nudging many people off of the government dole into better, high-paying jobs.
THE EDITORS: Speak softly and carry a big broom.
President Obama’s move to relax and, in some cases, sweep aside the bill’s requirements was attacked by analysts on both sides of the aisle, such as the original Republican drafter of the bill, Robert Rector, and liberal columnist Kirsten Powers, demonstrating how ideologically blinkered the president had become during his fourth year in office.
Only a few months later, Obama engaged in an act of demographic catering to rival any in the ignominious history of ethnic politics. In June 2012, five months before the 2012 election, President Obama held a press conference in the Rose Garden to announce the federal government’s decision to stop deporting illegal immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children. This action, in clear violation of immigration law, was undoubtedly political — the proposal of amnesty for illegal immigrants is extremely popular in the Latino community, a key constituency.
The executive order was such a blatant overreach by the executive branch that a reporter at the press conference, an immigrant himself, interrupted the President to question the legality of this action (see here). Even if the policy is popular, no executive should be able to ignore a law without the support of the legislature.
More recently, the President has continued to act with complete disregard for the law.
In early July, the administration announced a delay in Obamacare’s employer mandate — which will require businesses of more than 50 people to provide health insurance to their workers — until 2015. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) states that the employer mandate will go into effect in 2014, calling into question the ability of the President to make such a delay.
Supporters see this as a way to prevent the calamity (political and otherwise) that would arise from a prematurely implemented PPACA. Conservatives are declaring this a lawless ploy to stave off the noxious consequences of a wholly noxious law.
Even more recently, in early August Attorney General Eric Holder announced a Justice Department decision to stop enforcing many drug laws currently in effect. In a speech about mandatory minimum prison sentences for criminals guilty of drug-related crimes, Holder announced initiatives to prevent “low-level, non-cartel-related drug criminals” from receiving mandatory minimums.
This instruction, in direct conflict with current laws, is not the worst that Holder announced. The initiative also instructs U.S. attorneys to stop prosecuting, by way of dropping charges or withholding evidence, low-level drug offenders in an attempt to avoid mandatory minimums.
The Attorney General is either highly ignorant of the law or highly ideological, neither of which has a place in the Justice Department. The policy debate over drug criminalization is a valid one. But concerns over the efficacy of policy choices does not excuse the flouting of law, lest any statute out of favor with the executive be gutted.
Well into his second term, President Obama is unapologetic about his attempts to change the law through executive order. His administration has become defined by the elevation of political preference over legality.
The most disappointing aspect of these actions isn’t that a former constitutional law professor can’t interpret more clearly the passage of the Constitution pertaining to his office. The real risk inherent in these actions is the accumulation of detrimental precedent.
Conservatives should make the argument that executive power, while broadly defined, does not extend into the realm of lawless unilateralism. Barack Obama, once so preoccupied with the Bush administration’s “abuse” of a powerful executive, has become its greatest innovator.
—Connor Kitchings is a freshman studying political science.