Select Page

Can President Obama Make Law if Congress Chooses not to?

Harold Pease, Ph. D

In light of the recent White House Press Secretary’s threat, “We’re not just going to sit around and wait interminably for Congress. We’ve been waiting a year already.” Reportedly, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has been tasked with finding ways to change immigration law by executive order, thus bypassing Congress. The threat is not idle as President Barack Obama did this once before and promised to do so again in his most recent State of the Union Address.

There is nothing more clear nor basic in the Constitution than the separation of federal power into three branches, one to legislate, another to execute that law, and a third to adjudicate possible violations, when contested, of that law—a division of power held “sacred” until the last few decades. The Constitution reads: “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives”(Article I, Sec. I).

The executive branch has NO authority to make law—any law!!!! Executive Orders are constitutional only when they cite a single, recently passed law of Congress, where that law needs a statement of implementation by the executive branch. Originally they were but interdepartmental directives.

For years some in Congress have been working on what is called the Dream Act that would extend amnesty and place illegal immigrants on a course toward full citizenship. Lacking popularity, twice it has failed to get the majority vote of both Houses of Congress required by the Constitution (once, between 2008-2010, when the President’s party controlled everything except the Judicial branch), thus leaving existing immigration law unchanged. A president can only suggest a need for new law in his State of the Union Address, and either sign or veto a law passed by Congress, which then, if vetoed, must be overridden by a vote of 2/3rds of both houses to become law. That is it. This is the law of the land and the Constitutional procedure violated by President Barack Obama June 16, 2012, when, failing to get a favorable vote from Congress, openly defied Congress and the Constitution by ordering a like measure to that defeated, implemented anyway.

This was the most open case of contempt for Congress and the Constitution and the President knew it. Prior to it on March 28, 2011, he said, with respect to the idea of nullifying Congress on the deportation issue. “The notion that I can just suspend deportations just through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.”

So why would he “flip-flop” and knowingly violate the Constitution? Obama sees an inept Congress that has not placed any restraint on his previous unconstitutional executive orders. He brilliantly also sees a way to “buy” the Hispanic vote. If the Republicans resist he has a powerful campaign issue.

I warned at the time that if not challenged by Congress his alterations would become existing law by practice without the consent of the peoples’ representatives, voiding the role of Congress, and that he, upon finding a weak Congress, would repeat the practice of making law by decree. He has, and some have used the word dictatorial to describe the practice. Moreover, his alteration of existing law sent the message to Central America that new children would have a similar free pass to citizenship once in the United States; this encouraged the massive child illegal immigration that we now have. He alone is responsible for this national crisis.

To protect the separation of powers and end this crisis Congress must publically renounce his directive of June 16, 2012, and move to impeachment if he processes any other executive orders that conflict with existing law. They must immediately pass a law that the children be returned to their country of origin and direct the President to do so within 30 days. This would show his message of an open border for children to be false.

Democrats too should reign in their president. If they do not they, in effect, give permission to the next Republican president to defy Congress on something Democrats had previously established as law, like national healthcare for instance, and by a simple directive he too could not enforce that law. Democrats must see that their failure to insist on a retraction of the directive forever weakens the sole power of Congress to make all law and places us on the road of government by decree or edict of one man. We must choose the Constitution over party. How does a president’s defiance of Congress differ from what a king or dictator does? It doesn’t. The Constitution is there to protect all parties and all citizens from arbitrary and caprices rule. Please let it work.