The Presidency And The Rule Of Law
Religion & Liberty Online

The Presidency And The Rule Of Law

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Senator Ted Cruz (R.- Texas) discusses the presidency of Barack Obama, on the heels of the president’s State of the Union address last night. Cruz takes the current president to task on a simple theme: the rule of law.

Rule of law doesn’t simply mean that society has laws; dictatorships are often characterized by an abundance of laws. Rather, rule of law means that we are a nation ruled by laws, not men. That no one—and especially not the president—is above the law. For that reason, the U.S. Constitution imposes on every president the express duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

Yet rather than honor this duty, President Obama has openly defied it by repeatedly suspending, delaying and waiving portions of the laws he is charged to enforce.

The rule of law is so deeply engrained in Western civilization that we hardly notice it. Over 800 years ago, the rule of law was formally recognized in the Magna Carta, with the revolutionary idea that law could prevail over the will of a king. The Founding Fathers of the United States (knowing full well the tyranny of a king) recognized that a suitable government is one of “laws, not men,” as John Adams said.

And it is this disregard for the rule of law on the part of Obama that Cruz finds deeply problematic. The president has openly declared he has no reason nor willingness to follow the law of the land when it impinges upon his will:

As he said recently, describing his executive powers: “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.” Under the Constitution, that is not the way federal law is supposed to work.

The Obama administration has been so brazen in its attempts to expand federal power that the Supreme Court has unanimously rejected the Justice Department’s efforts to expand federal power nine times since January 2012.

There is no example of lawlessness more egregious than the enforcement—or nonenforcement—of the president’s signature policy, the Affordable Care Act. Mr. Obama has repeatedly declared that “it’s the law of the land.” Yet he has repeatedly violated ObamaCare’s statutory text.

The law says that businesses with 50 or more full-time employees will face the employer mandate on Jan. 1, 2014. President Obama changed that, granting a one-year waiver to employers. How did he do so? Not by going to Congress to change the text of the law, but through a blog post by an assistant secretary at Treasury announcing the change.

No one at Rummymede or in in the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House could possibly have imagined law by blog post – yet here we are. Cruz rightly points out that this type of disregard for the rule of law (which destroys economies, communities, nations) is not a partisan issue. It is, as a matter of fact, the very essence of our nation and our governance. Cruz ends his discussion with a scathing indictment:

Today many in Congress—and the press—have chosen to give President Obama a pass on his pattern of lawlessness, perhaps letting partisan loyalty to the man supersede their fidelity to the law.

But this should not be a partisan issue. In time, the country will have another president from another party. For all those who are silent now: What would they think of a Republican president who announced that he was going to ignore the law, or unilaterally change the law? Imagine a future president setting aside environmental laws, or tax laws, or labor laws, or tort laws with which he or she disagreed.

That would be wrong—and it is the Obama precedent that is opening the door for future lawlessness. As Montesquieu knew, an imperial presidency threatens the liberty of every citizen. Because when a president can pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore, he is no longer a president.

Read “Ted Cruz: The Imperial Presidency of Barack Obama” at The Wall Street Journal.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.