15 December 2015

Obama’s legacy of executive sins


Over the seven years of Barack Obama’s presidency, there have been numerous occasions when those who long for limited government and restrained use of presidential power have gnashed their teeth at the current brazen occupant of the Oval Office. Now, as liberal legal eagle Jonathan Turley points out in a column for the Washington Post, even those who support President Obama’s near-reflexive use of executive authority may come to rue the day he starting flexing his muscle. After all, as Turley points out, it won’t be quite so fun when a President Trump is stealing plays from the Obama playbook.

If Democrats are alarmed by this glimpse into a Trump administration, they are in part to blame. They have supported President Obama’s claims of unchecked authority in a variety of areas, particularly immigration. And the Obama model will be attractive to successors who, although they may have a different agenda, have the same appetite for unilateral decisions.

Turley warns of Republican Donald Trump’s promise to keep Muslims out of the country and to build a wall along the Mexican border as the logical consequence of Barack Obama’s predilection for going it alone.

Obama has been particularly aggressive in his unilateral actions. From health care to immigration to the environment, he has set out to order changes long refused by Congress. Thrilled by those changes, supporters have ignored the obvious danger that they could be planting a deeply unfortunate precedent if the next president proves to be a Cruz rather than a Clinton. While the policies may not carry over to the next president, the powers will.

And while Turley tries to frighten readers even more about the possibility of a Trump victory, his list of Obama abuses of power is itself rather nerve-shaking.

President Obama has been aggressively unilateral on environmental regulation and “the urgency of climate change.”

He’s delayed enforcement of his signature healthcare reform law and deferred deportation of illegal immigrants.

Obama has ordered his Justice Department to reduce the charges for federal drug crimes and to not file charges at all.

President Obama has stripped college students of due process in cases of alleged sexual assault or harassment and has threatened universities who defy the White House.

Obama also flexed his presidential discretion by issuing waivers for federal standards for math and reading proficiency.

“The current administration has asserted the authority to kill even U.S. citizens, anywhere, at any time, if it deems them to be imminent threats to national security,” Turley complains.

And he points out how Obama showed his opposition to the definition of marriage contained in the Defense of Marriage Act, “announcing in 2011 that the Justice Department would no longer defend the statute.”

Also, Turley explains how the “Obama administration treated deadlines specified in the Affordable Care Act as little more than aspirational … [and] told companies that when imposing layoffs connected to federal budget cuts known as sequestration, they could ignore the 60-day notice requirement in place since the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act was passed in 1988.”

Finally Turley is right when he points out how Obama has dealt with regulations he doesn’t like. “Consider the Obama administration’s treatment of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. TANF was signed by President Bill Clinton to condition receipt of welfare benefits on work (or preparing for work). The Obama administration, however, told states that it would waive that requirement.”

Turley isn’t the only one to warn about the problem of selective respect for the existing rules and legislation. At National Review, Josh Gelernter has a terrific rundown on Democrat hypocrisy when it comes to due process and the no-fly list.

And meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has already committed to continuing down Obama’s unilateral brick road. “If Congress won’t act, then I will ask the Treasury Department, when I’m there, to use its regulatory authority, if that’s what it takes,” Clinton said in Iowa. She was talking about corporation paying taxes but she’s promised the same thing on gun control and immigration.

Turley may be the most recent to warn about the dangers of too much power concentrated in the presidency, but he’s joining an already active group of legal scholars. Earlier this year, George Mason law professor David E. Bernstein’s book “Lawless: The Obama Administration’s unprecedented assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law” warned that it will take a person of humility to reverse the trend towards “going it alone” as president. “In general, the Republican field, and especially Donald Trump, hasn’t given us much cause to hope for a president who believes in self-restraint when it comes to interpreting the scope of his constitutional powers. That said, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, at least, have in the past expressed strong views on constitutional matters that, if followed in office, would reverse a fair amount of the damage done by President Obama,” Bernstein told me via email.

Abby W. Schachter is editor of CapX America.