The lawsuit by the House of Representatives against President Barack Obama is praised by Republicans as a crusade to preserve our form of government and damned by Democrats as all about politics. Could be that it’s both.
At issue is Obama’s use of executive actions to pursue his political goals without going through Congress. His defenders say Obama has invoked executive orders fewer times than previous presidents; his critics say his measures have been much greater in scope and breadth. The critics have the better argument.
When his signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act, proved to be difficult politically to implement, Obama made a couple of dozen rewrites of key sections of the law through executive fiat.
When Congress did not enact a bill Obama wanted to grant legal status to children brought illegally into the country, the administration simply made it so. Similarly, the administration waived Clinton- era work requirements for welfare benefits.
Several of Obama’s unilateral maneuvers already have been struck down by the courts. Perhaps the most notable was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Obama’s abuse of recess appointment authority to pack the National Labor Relations Board with union cronies while the Senate was, in fact, still in session.
Obama’s power grab has alarmed even some liberals who recognize the necessity of the separation of powers to the success of the American system of government. One is Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University and an Obama supporter sympathetic to many of the president’s causes.
“What we are witnessing today is one of the greatest challenges to our constitutional system in the history of this country,” Turley said in testimony to a House committee that advanced the suit against Obama. Noting that the president had “announced that he would go it alone” to change Obamacare, Turley testified:
“The assertion of executive prerogative to implement changes without Congress is tantamount to a pledge to govern alone. Such a dominant executive certainly promises to ‘get things done’ but at a prohibitive cost. Those who remain silent today should consider that, in less than three years, a different president will sit in the Oval Office. That person could use the very same claims to suspend environmental or anti-discrimination laws. The short-term benefits of achieving such changes will pale in comparison to the long-term damage to our system from fueling the rise of an American über-presidency.”
“Those who remain silent” are, of course, Democrats in the Senate happy to see Obama unilaterally put in place “progressive” political goals even if means emasculating Congress. Which comes to the central problem with the lawsuit.
Our system of checks and balances requires dedication to our Constitution from honorable men and women. While a favorable Supreme Court ruling would be an important rebuke to an over-reaching White House, no court can infuse integrity, principles and ethics into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and some other Democrats in Congress who refuse to stand up not only for the institution they serve, but, by extension, for all Americans. As Turley put it, “The Framers feared the concentration or aggrandizement of power. Such dominant power breeds a threat to individual liberty interests.”
No doubt political motives are behind the Republican lawsuit. But that doesn’t diminish the very real worries about the damage an über-presidency can do to government of the people, by the people, for the people.