Thinking Out Loud – Presidential Prerogatives

If you have been following the “other” controversial Supreme Court ruling — the one in which the Court ruled on the Obama administration’s challenge to an Arizona law designed to deal with Arizona’s massive influx of illegal immigrants — you know that the Supreme Court struck down much of the Arizona law.  Arizona had argued that since the federal government has abrogated its responsibility to keep illegal aliens out of the state (which it has) — illegal aliens that constantly threaten the property and lives of Arizona’s citizens — Arizona’s government could step in, but the Court disagreed.  Essentially, the Court ruled that Arizona has no right of self-defense against alien outlaws because, constitutionally speaking, immigration policy is a federal and not a state responsibility, even if the federal government is not meeting that responsibility.

Which I mention because this case offers an interesting insight into the evolving role of the president in “faithfully executing” (as the Constitution requires the president to do) the laws of the land.

The one provision in Arizona’s law that the court did uphold was allowing Arizona police to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for other criminal acts, such as speeding or burglary.  The court reasoned that since police officers, upon arresting a suspect, can check to see if that suspect has any outstanding warrants, they should also be able to check the suspect’s immigration status.

Which is done by accessing via computer a federally maintained database on immigration.  And lo and behold, right after the court’s ruling the Obama administration announced that it will no longer provide Arizona police with information regarding the immigration status of anyone in the state.

In other words, in Arizona the Obama administration has decided that it will not “faithfully execute” the laws of the land — including laws the Supreme Court has ruled are constitutional.  It will only execute — enforce — the laws it agrees with.

By contrast, when George Washington was president he was so deferential to Congress, and so mindful of his responsibility to faithfully execute the laws Congress passed, that he refused to even veto laws he did not agree with.  He might have thought they were bad laws — he definitely disliked a law Congress passed regarding its financial compensation — but there was nothing in the Constitution that prohibited its passage, so he signed it into law.

Indeed, Washington only vetoed two laws in his entire two terms and in both cases he thought the laws were unconstitutional.

Granted, Washington was one of a kind, but it is telling how much the presidency’s role with respect to its constitutional duties has evolved.  Obama’s action, or inaction, regarding immigration is among the most brazen, but certainly not the only example.