Share your opinion

Government and Law

Suing the president

“The legislature makes, the executive executes, and the judiciary construes the law; but… the precise boundary of this power is a subject of delicate and difficult inquiry.” –Chief Justice John Marshall, 1825

Congress refuses to vote on President Obama’s nominees. The president issues executive orders where Congressional action might be the normal course of policymaking.

Now the president's duty to carry out the law has become another flashpoint for partisan rancor.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has upped the ante in this political battle, announcing plans to sue President Obama for willfully refusing to enforce laws as Congress passed them.

"He shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." – Constitution, Article II, Section 3

A House resolution would authorize the speaker to file suit “to seek appropriate ancillary relief… regarding the failure of the President, the head of any department or agency, or any other officer or employee of the United States, to act in a manner consistent with that official’s duties under the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to implementation” of the Affordable Care Act.

"I get to look at the Constitution once in a while,” said Boehner. “The Constitution makes it clear that Congress writes the law and the President takes the oath of office to faithfully discharge the laws that are on the books."

Obama responded, "They have plans to sue me for taking executive actions that are within my authority — while they do nothing."

Creating the Separation of Powers

The founding generation was deeply concerned about the dangers of placing too much authority in one part of the government. The Constitution was drawn up largely to create a more effective executive branch of government than existed under the Articles of Confederation.

Many pointed to the French political thinker Montesquieu, who wrote about the importance of dividing power in The Spirit of the Laws.

In a passage that influenced many founders, Montesquieu wrote, “Miserable indeed would be the case were the same man, or the same body… to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and that of judging crimes or differences of individuals.”

During the Constitutional Convention in 1787 James Wilson of Pennsylvania argued forcefully for the importance of a powerful executive, calling the position “the accountable magistrate of a free and great people.”

But not everyone agreed. Roger Sherman of Connecticut believed the president should be the servant of Congress, not its equal. An independent executive would be “the very essence of tyranny.” The founders were very wary of granting the president too much power, since they remembered all too well a Revolution fought against a king they considered a tyrant.

An “imperial presidency”?

Objections to an “imperial presidency” have most often come to the fore over foreign policy. In 1793, for example, some in Congress strenuously objected to Washington’s proclamation of neutrality, which they thought violated provisions of the 1778 treaty between France and the United States. Between 1798 and 1800, Republicans protested an undeclared war with France as an example of presidential overreach.

The courts have historically been reluctant to get in the middle of perceived political squabbles, even when it appears to be an issue of Constitutional power.

Will this time be different? It’s too early to tell.

7 comments

Comments

Anonymous
Not just this administration, but also past administrations have gone beyond the Constitution, as has the Supreme Court. Meanwhile Congress sits on their fat A----- and does nothing.
Anonymous
Yes, this is an imperial presidency. Barak Obama wanted to change America and he has. We are a weakened nation and we are witnessing the decline of America. For a man such as he, to win two terms, shows how uneducated the voters in this country are. Obama was an unknown from Chicago, IL, the most corrupt city and state in the nation, a man who had no experience in managing anything, but was elected to the highest office in the nation. However, the people spoke and they got what they asked for. Shame on them.
Anonymous
Weakened nation? Stock market at all time high after the collapse under George W. Bush. Unemployment coming down without any cooperation on programs from GOP. Finally deficit spending coming down: Bush was handed a balanced budget and blew in in a year -- then did two wars on the credit card and massive unfunded tax breaks for the rich. Respect from the rest of the world has returned after being blown by Bush/Cheney and their war/torture policies. The fact that Obama is from Chicago means only that he lived there -- there is no record of corruption in his past. And I could go on. Folks who didn't vote for President Obama have never accepted his election and re-election -- it's called sour grapes.
Anonymous
Mr. Anonymous: It is time that you learn that Barrack Obama does not believe in the America that emerged from Colonial Williamsburg. He is a traitor who is implementing his plan to destroy the America that emerged from the 1770s-17790s and beyond. He speaks in fine words and corrupts the law daily when he leaves his podium. You have to be deaf and dumb not to see that -- or you have to be one of his minions. If you are a patriotic American, which I assume you are, I have news for you. Obama could care less about the Democratic Party or the GOP. The blue party is simply a better vehicle to accomplish his ends: Flood our borders with illegals, violate the rights of his opponents and keep Black Americans believing the nonsense that patriotic conservatives like me are racists, bigots and worse.
Anonymous
By never telling the truth, Bush and his circus got a lot of Americans KIA. We are broke cause of the GOP spending. And yes the Dems over spend too but who runs congress? Weakening of America, gee, your doing it by killing our troops, using up all our weapons......
Anonymous
Will Speaker of the House John Boehner cry if he loses?
Anonymous
Let's leave Mr. Bush out of this. Mr. Obama has owned the past 6 years, massive debt and all.

The Idea of America: Citizen's EditionPlan your visit

Archives