Taking Obama To Court

Capitol Hill was rocked late last week by news that House Republicans were pursuing legal action against the Obama administration. The president’s use of executive authority pertaining to both healthcare and immigration was the motivation for the lawsuit, according to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“Time after time, the president has chosen to ignore the will of the American people and rewrite federal law on his own without a vote of Congress,” Boehner said in a statement. “That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work.”

The action was filed Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court. While the lawsuit is not pertinent to immigration, the fact that it was filed the morning after Obama announced sweeping changes to immigration policies—via further executive action—suggests that decision might have been the last straw.

“If the president can get away with making his own laws, future presidents will have that ability as well,” continued Boehner. “The House has an obligation to stand up for the Constitution, and that is exactly why we are pursuing this course of action.”

What are executive actions?

An executive order, essentially, is a formal directive from the President to the rest of the federal government. These orders, like other forms of laws, can be struck down by the judicial branch or by Congress.

By comparison, an executive action is more of a ‘wish-list’ item; a vague term that can be used to describe anything a President does. Think of executive actions as personal priorities.

That’s part of what makes Obama’s initiative from last week so complicated. In announcing that up to 5 million undocumented residents would be granted temporary legal status in the United States, President Obama took executive action—but never signed an official order. That places the onus on Congress to pass a law restricting or reversing Obama’s action—a measure Obama challenged Speaker Boehner to take.

“Pass a bill,” Obama demanded on ABC’s This Week. “Congress has a responsibility to deal with these issues and there are some things that I can’t do on my own.”

But is it constitutional? There is nothing in the United States Constitution that explicitly allows executive orders. And as we’ve discussed, executive action is an informal concept. The closest language appears in Article II, Section 1, Clause 1 and reads, simply:

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

However, that executive power is defined in the Constitution as a responsibility to “execute the instructions of Congress” which has the exclusive power “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.”

Even those Americans who support immigration reform don’t seem to believe such action should be unilateral on the President’s part. The Washington Post reported that some 57 percent of those surveyed agreed with creating a law that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. However, only 38 percent approved of Obama’s executive action as a means of achieving this.

VOTE: Are Obama’s Executive Actions Unconstitutional?

The mid-term elections held earlier this month were seen as a sweeping rejection of President Obama’s policies, to which the President replied, “the American people have sent a message, and I hear you.”

President Obama may have heard the voters, but he doesn’t appear to be listening.

Phil Cannella

Phil Cannella

As a partner with CBS Radio in Philadelphia, Phil Cannella reports on the issues most important to the American retiree.
Phil Cannella
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Phil Cannella
Phil Cannella

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