Presidents going it alone, Part 2

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, July 7, 2015

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 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.
President Abraham Lincoln was prolific in his use of executive orders. In 1863 Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation – often viewed as the most bold and far reaching executive order in history. President Teddy Roosevelt was openly a believer in the role of big government and a powerful executive branch. Teddy Roosevelt issued a record 1,006 executive orders. Later his fifth cousin Franklin Roosevelt issued a whopping 3,728 executive orders. Examples such as the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the creation of the WPA and hundreds of other similar programs to cushion the impact of the Great Depression were virtually all handled by executive orders. John F. Kennedy established Affirmative Action and Lyndon Johnson initiated Equal Employment Opportunity through executive orders. Harry Truman famously nationalized the steel mills and was subsequently rebuffed by the Supreme Court. George W. Bush issued upwards of 1,200 “signing statements” indicating which parts of congressional acts that he would or would not enforce. Far from being a dictator the likes of which we have never seen President Obama may be described as somewhat average in his efforts to govern alone.
The June Supreme Court decision making season is upon us. Several significant cases will be decided but certainly the two most watched will be those involving the continued viability of the Affordable Care Act and the extent of constitutional protections afforded same sex marriages. The first will determine if the federal government may continue to pay subsidies under “Obamacare” for lower income people living in states that have refused to create state exchanges. The second will determine whether same sex marriages will be allowed nationally or remain confined to certain states. Millions of citizens will be affected by these two decisions alone as will President Obama’s legacy and the whole process is infused with politics as the 2016 presidential election awaits.
Politics allow “the people” to have the ultimate role. If objections to Supreme Court interpretations are robust enough there are options to deal with them. First, the guiding language of the Constitution may be amended. Congress may propose amendments that must be ratified by the states or the states may call a convention to amend the constitution. Secondly, as the saying goes, elections have consequences. The president appoints members to the Supreme Court and the Senate confirms or rejects them. Thus, the respective parties determine who these appointees are by their ability to elect the President and the majority of the Senate. With the other party controlling Congress, President Obama is on his own.

By Marty Wiseman

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