The Constitution’s Article VI, Section 2, is very clear. Laws passed by the federal government — aka Congress — are “the supreme law of the land.” That means that any laws passed by the states that conflict with federal law are null and void.
The Constitution is also very clear about who is entrusted with enforcing federal law — the president. Indeed, enforcing federal laws and defending the nation are his two primary constitutional responsibilities, and the Founders never intended that the president gets to pick and choose which federal laws he will enforce and which he won’t.
Which brings us to our current president and two issues — legalizing marijuana and legalizing illegal immigration — that are on the docket. Last November, the states of Washington and Colorado passed laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, while 16 other states and Washington, D.C., passed laws allowing its medical use. Yet the Controlled Substances Act, passed by Congress in 1970, prohibits the “cultivation, sale and use” of marijuana in all of its forms, which is clearly in opposition to state law. Thus it is the president’s responsibility to tell the states that federal law is preeminent and will be enforced.
Yet President Obama has decided that this is “not a priority” for his administration and nothing has been done to enforce federal law.
Obama’s approach to the other issue, illegal immigration, is even starker. On several occasions the so-called “Dream Act,” which would have eased some restrictions on immigration and eased the penalties for certain kinds of illegal activities regarding immigration, was voted on by Congress and each time it failed to pass. As a result, federal law with respect to illegal immigration is very clear — it remains illegal.
In response, last June President Obama announced that his administration would no longer enforce immigration laws against an entire class of illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria, such as coming to America when they were 15 or younger, having no criminal record, are in school or have graduated, and/or have served in the military.
Now one can sympathize with the plight of these innocent people, illegally brought to America by their parents when they were young and now ingrained in the American way of life. But that should not obscure the larger principle — that if President Obama, or any president, can arbitrarily decide which laws to enforce and which to ignore, the rule of law in America becomes moot.
As an ironic aside, several states also recently passed laws that outright reject Obamacare, which is also a federal law duly passed by Congress. My guess is President Obama will be telling those states that, in this case, federal law is “supreme” and he plans to rigorously enforce it.