In 1792, when charged with enforcing an unpopular tax on whiskey in the face of rebellion, President George Washington noted in a letter to Alexander Hamilton, “It is my duty to see the Laws executed: to permit them to be trampled upon with impunity would be repugnant to” that duty.
With a long and bloody war for freedom still fresh in their memory, our forefathers created a government of, by and for the people, and they protected that new citizenry by dividing it into three branches and providing checks and balances to limit the power of each branch. The legislature created the law, the executive enforced it and the judicial interpreted it as the need arose.
After having just escaped the clutches of a monarch, the Founding Fathers did not seek to grant one man the power to unilaterally create and execute the law; however, more than 220 years after Washington recognized his duty, we find ourselves confronted with a commander in chief all too eager to forget his.
The “take care” clause in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution provides that the president shall “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” While the president has the right to exercise reasonable discretion, he may not choose which laws shall be enforced. This is fundamental to our constitutional framework.
Consider the potential for abuse. With the power to decide which laws to enforce, a president might grant dispensation of onerous laws to one favoured class while enforcing those same laws against those who do not share his political ideology. What would we say if the president decided to waive a tax against business owners, but not against the common citizen? How would we react if a president decided to enforce the tax laws only against his political enemies? What if the president unilaterally decided to open our nation’s borders to whomever, whenever, without the need for background checks, visas or green cards?
In delaying employer mandates, an IRS targeting conservative political groups and refusing to enforce our immigration laws, President Barack Obama has forgotten his duty.
If the president can choose which laws to enforce, there is no need for congress and little need for the courts. The House and Senate can go home, as the laws they pass — even after having been signed into law by the executive — are of little consequence if the president makes sure they are implemented only at his discretion.
President Obama has clearly and repeatedly violated Article II, Section 3 throughout his presidency. His waiver of the work requirements under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, his failure to enforce our immigration laws, and his unilateral decision not to enforce multiple provisions of his own health care law are just a few examples of his lapse in duty and failure to execute his oath of office.
I, along with 118 co-sponsors, have filed the Stop This Overreaching Presidency, or “STOP,” resolution. If adopted by a majority of the House, this resolution will require the House to take legal action to force the president to do his job as prescribed by the Constitution.
Opponents of such a measure are sure to dismiss it as a conservative vendetta, a Republican vs. Democrat partisan battle, or personal animosity against the president. My colleagues and I take this action because we believe, as our Founders did, that one man is not greater than the Constitution, and that a government of the people, by the people and for the people is more than just a broken campaign promise. It is who we are as Americans and it must not be ignored.
Rep. Tom Rice is a Republican from South Carolina.