Out-of-Control Executive Threatens Representative Government
The growth of presidential power in recent years constitutes a serious threat to representative government. The idea of the executive “executing” the laws passed by the elected representatives of the people seems to be an old-fashioned notion to those in power — whether Republicans or Democrats.
When President Obama unilaterally called a halt to deportation proceedings for certain unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, the eligibility requirements roughly tracked the requirements of the Dream Act, which Congress never passed.
In an interview with Latino journalists last fall, the president said, “This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true. We live in a democracy. You have to pass bills through the legislature, and then I can sign it.”
Gene Healy, vice president of the Cato Institute, notes, “As it happens, Obama’s ‘royal dispensation’ for young immigrants is hardly the most terrifying instance of administration unilateralism. In fact, as a policy matter, it’s a humane and judicious use of prosecutorial resources. But given the context, it stinks. It looks uncomfortably like implementing parts of a bill that didn’t pass and — carried out as it was with great fanfare and an eye to the impending election — the move sits uneasily with the president’s constitutional responsibility to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’”
In another matter, the president claimed “executive privilege” in withholding information about the U.S. Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious. The operation deliberately put assault weapons in the hands of Mexican drug cartels as part of a sting and then lost track of hundreds of them. In 2012, a Border Patrol agent was killed, apparently by one of these guns.
Executive privilege, affirmed by the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Nixon, is historically limited to the president’s own discussions. President Obama has extended it to his attorney general. This extension contravenes the president’s promises of transparency.