Commentary: Is it legal because Obama did it?
President Barack Obama, whose power abuses have played a role in the imperilment of tens of thousands of children and earned him slaps by the Supreme Court and the threat of a suit by House Republicans, has promised more of the same. If Congress doesn’t give him what he wants on immigration reform, he said he is going to change things himself. What that could well mean is unilaterally instituting a broad amnesty program of his aides’ devising.
It’s the kind of performance you would more likely expect on a “Saturday Night Live” stage than in the Rose Garden. There he nevertheless was, telling us “America cannot wait forever for them to act.” By “them” he meant House Republicans, by “act” he meant passage of sweeping legislation that meets his approval and by “forever” he meant passage is unlikely this year.
While no one can say for sure all that comes next, a New York Times story says the administration may give “work permits and protection from deportation to millions of immigrants now in the country.” Except that it would be much further reaching, this move could render something akin to the two-year, renewable, constitutionally questionable amnesty already granted by Obama in 2012 to more than a half-million immigrant youths who came here illegally as children.
This presidential venture is now seen as a factor encouraging great crowds of poor children unaccompanied by parents to come to the U.S. border. They come mostly from Central America, were sometimes escaping criminal violence but seem to have thought in many instances that amnesty applied to them and may yet see a new amnesty grant that does. Many have had to walk through desert in temperatures over 100 degrees. Many of the girls have been raped. The U.S. Border Patrol can do little else but take care of them. What might a second amnesty do even as Obama brings more agents from the interior of the country to the border?
The larger point is that here we have just one of numerous instances of the president flirting openly with autocracy. He acts as an unaccountable king of the hill in myriad ways: how he releases terrorists; regulatory overkill; and endlessly rewriting laws with nothing passed by Congress, for instance.
Jonathan Turley, a liberal professor of constitutional law, sees a vast “usurpation of authority” in which Obama gets away with misdeeds even President Richard Nixon only dreamt about. For the sake of a constitutionally ordered, democratic, free republic, Turley has been banging drums to get more reaction from Congress and the courts.
Just lately, there has been a flicker of judicial hope in a couple of recent Supreme Court decisions, such as a unanimous verdict that recess appointments bypassing the Senate will not stand because the Senate was not in recess.
Since most Democrats won’t sign on, Congress has done little to restore the crucial system of checks and balances, but here comes Republican House Speaker John Boehner with the threat of a suit to stop the usurpation. The responses have been varied. Turley is all for it, some scholars say the House has proper standing and then there are those resorting to irrationality, such as in comparing numbers of executive orders signed by different presidents.
Obama comes in low on the graph, but these orders were not all created equal, as cleverer souls note; many by Obama were hugely awful while many by other presidents were perfectly OK. An even worse argument chiefly from the left is that Obama has had to act because Congress won’t do what he wants. In other words, effectuating arguable Obama policies is an end that justifies the catastrophic means of ignoring rule of law. But did Obama really cross that line?
“When a president does it, that means it is not illegal,” Nixon once said. Whoever thought there would come a day when so many liberals echoed the sentiment?