by Rob Schwarzwalder
November 20, 2014
Family Research Council does not take a position on immigration reform. We’ve got enough on our plate, from protecting unborn children and their mothers from a predatory abortion industry and sustaining traditional marriage as the foundation of our culture to protecting religious liberty as the “first freedom” of our republic.
However, we take a strong position on the Constitution: We believe in it. We agree with the Founders that a written text contains objective meanings and that, to borrow a phrase from Jefferson, neither an activist judiciary nor an impatient president has a right to turn the Constitution into a “thing of wax.”
That’s why conservatives have every right to be concerned, even alarmed, by the President’s pending announcement of an Executive Order on U.S. immigration policy.
The Constitution invests the President with the authority to enact policies to ensure the faithful execution of laws passed by Congress and signed into law by the Executive (Section 3, Article II), and the “executive power” (or “vesting” power) granted the President (Article II, Section I) universally is recognized by constitutional scholars as involving only execution of federal laws, removing from the Executive Branch those officers who serve at the President’s discretion, and the formation and execution of foreign policy.
Then-Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v Sawyer (1952) offered a three-fold test for whether an Executive Order is valid:
- “When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.”
- “When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain. Therefore, congressional inertia, indifference or quiescence may sometimes, at least as a practical matter, enable, if not invite, measures on independent presidential responsibility.”
- “When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter … Presidential claim to a power at once so conclusive and preclusive must be scrutinized with caution, for what is at stake is the equilibrium established by our constitutional system.”
The operative phrase in the above bullets is in the third paragraph: “measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress.” Clearly, as National Affairs’ Andrew Evans writes, “President Obama’s executive order is intended as a substitute for a law that Congress has not passed.”
Finally, federal Courts have ruled that Executive Orders that surpass the express intent of Congress can only be executed in times of national emergency. Even then, according to the
U.S. Code, “When the President declares a national emergency, no powers or authorities made available by statute for use in the event of an emergency shall be exercised unless and until the President specifies the provisions of law under which he proposes that he, or other officers will act. Such specification may be made either in the declaration of a national emergency, or by one or more contemporaneous or subsequent Executive orders published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.
In other words, even in the extreme event of a national emergency, the President has to justify by what authority he is declaring such emergency. And clearly, while both legal and illegal immigration policy involve a host of difficult issues, the Administration has not demonstrated, nor can it demonstrate, that any such emergency exists. If it did, why did the President – as he himself put it – wait a full year for Congress to act?
Legal scholar William J. Olson and Rutgers University historian Alan Woll have rightly noted that “Powers were separated not to make government more efficient but to restrain the natural bent of men, even presidents, to act as tyrants.” Mr. Obama hasn’t gotten what he wants, so he is acting like a monarch unconstrained by legality. This is not constitutional, republican governance. It is something else altogether – something that should evoke in everyone who values his Constitution-based liberty apprehension about what might come next.