Presidents going it alone, part 1

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, June 30, 2015

There has been quite an “end zone dance” of late by conservative Republicans across the bitterly anti-Obama red states.
The reason for such unbridled glee centers upon President Obama’s failure to persuade the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to undo an injunction by a federal judge in Brownsville, Texas. This injunction blocks the implementation of Obama’s executive order allowing some 5 million mostly Hispanic immigrants to remain in this country indefinitely on a special work status.
As usual anytime anti-Obama ire is aroused in these parts his legions of detractors engage in an abundance of hyperbole to describe the historic seriousness of the president’s alleged missteps that resulted in his efforts being thwarted. In the case of his immigration related executive order Obama acted out of necessity given the Republican Congress’ refusal to budge on the increasingly troublesome issue.
There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that the involvement of the third “co-equal” branch of government — the judiciary — would be necessary to determine the constitutional propriety of president Obama’ unilateral action. In reality, there is ample precedent since the founding of the nation for presidents to test the power of the office against a recalcitrant legislative branch and the judgement of the Supreme Court.
A brief refresher course in civics should suffice to illustrate this point. As the gears of the federal government lurched into motion shortly after the founding there was initially a significant measure of uncertainty as to what the roles of the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts were intended to be. This uncertainty was erased by virtue of the famous case entitled Marbury v. Madison when chief Justice Marshal held that the Supreme Court did indeed have the power to determine whether actions of the legislative branch and, by extension of his reasoning, the executive branch were allowable according to the language of the new United States Constitution.
Following this holding by the High Court the new nation did indeed have its intended three co-equal branches of government – the legislative (Congress), the executive (president) and the judicial (the Supreme Court) – making our unique system of checks and balances possible.
Given the parameters established by the constitution, is President Obama guilty of the accusations of his detractors that he is a tyrant of previously unprecedented proportions, bent on establishing a dictatorship while taking liberties in governing without so much as consulting the Congress? If so, Obama is in some good company. Let us consider a few examples of executive actions of previous presidents.
All presidents have sought to enforce their ideas of governance via unilateral executive orders. Often the reasons are related to the plodding, cumbersome nature of congressional action when haste is required or when Congress refuses to act at all. See part 2 for the continuation of this column.

By Marty Wiseman

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