Reports have now emerged revealing that the Obama administration has issued thousands of work-permits for illegal immigrants in explicit contravention of an injunction issued by Texas federal judge Andrew S. Hanen. Judge Hanen had ordered Mr. Obama’s new “deportation amnesty” program halted, but administration lawyers admitted last week that issuance of work-permits had continued, despite the judge’s order. Those lawyers may face court discipline for their actions (or lack thereof) in the matter, but we have no particulars at this time.
As in previous matters of this sort, administration spokesmen will undoubtedly trot out claims that these “mistaken” actions originated from a few overzealous (i.e., “rogue”) Department of Homeland Security workers who either didn’t get the word on the amnesty-stoppage, or else acted solely on their own initiative. Certainly, disobedience of the court’s injunction could not have been ordered the president or anyone near him. Administration investigations into the matter will be said to be ongoing – blah-blah-blah, blah-blah, and (in conclusion) blah…
Anyone who buys this story should be marked down as a prospective customer for sale of the Brooklyn Bridge, some Florida swampland, or a refrigerator franchise in Alaska. Nevertheless, millions of “low information” voters, Obama kool-aide drinkers, and plain old yellow-dog Democrats will readily swallow it. Remarkably, legions of so-called reporters evidently still do not comprehend that employees of all federal agencies – including the DHS – are simply hirelings who work for the president and do exactly what he orders. They do not follow their own line on matters like court orders. If the president says, “jump!” they ask “how high?” This is neither rocket science nor deep mystery, although the media have made it seem so during Democrat administrations. (Who knew that Democrat presidents actually exercised so little control over federal employees, or had so little recourse for contrarian actions by rogue civil serpents?)
All seriousness aside, this latest disobedience of a court order is just another dog-and-pony show staged by President Obama to demonstrate his complete freedom from restraint by any other branches of government. He has already given the back of his hand to the Congress by re-interpreting and essentially rewriting immigration laws – claiming “prosecutorial discretion” on parts of the law where that authority clearly does not apply.
Now he is reasserting his superiority to the courts, although not for the first time. In 2010, a court order struck down Mr. Obama’s stoppage of all oil-drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. He responded by simply ordering a new ban on the drilling.
In fact, the courts have no real power to enforce any rulings. As Andrew Jackson famously said, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it!” If a president decides to ignore a court order, very little can be done about it short of impeachment by the House of Representatives for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” followed by a Senate trial. As discussed previously in this column, that remedy is rich in drama but is otherwise practically worthless, since virtually any impeachment proceeding will become a political contest in which members of the president’s own party are certain to support him – regardless of what he may have done – thus denying his accusers the 2/3 Senate-majority needed to convict.
In all of our history, only two presidents have been impeached and tried for possible removal. In 1868, President Andrew Johnson’s conviction failed in the Senate by a single member’s vote, despite the alignment of Johnson’s own party against him in a test of Congressional vs. Presidential authority. In Bill Clinton’s 1998 trial, the vote went entirely along party-lines, even though one of the two charges was “jury-tampering” – an extremely serious matter for any citizen, and particularly for a lawyer. In fact, President Clinton’s law-license was suspended for five years, after he left office, on account of the charge tried by the Senate.
I frequently hear pundits and political analysts aver that the Supreme Court will “settle” certain matters before it – including gay-marriage and some provisions of Obamacare. In that respect they exhibit far more confidence than I have that Mr. Obama and his political allies will actually obey the Court’s rulings. I’ll believe that when I see it.
For instance, suppose the Court rules that subsidies granted to citizens of states which did not establish Obamacare “exchanges” were unlawful and must be rescinded. Many recipients of those subsidies are Democrats who supported the controversial law. Would Mr. Obama really leave them twisting in the wind? Surely not. Is it not nearly certain that he would issue an executive order negating the High Court’s ruling on basis of “prosecutorial discretion” – or some other justification dreamed up by his lawyers?
More to the point – who will stop him if he moves to do this? And how can it be done? Will Republican congressmen or senators stop the president by making speeches and “deploring” his disrespect for the law? Will Congress pass a resolution? Or will another lawsuit do it? Which court can accomplish what the Supreme Court is unable to do? Obviously, the idea is absurd.
Short of an armed insurrection, a president can do whatever he wants without repercussion. As an insurrection is unlikely, he is basically free from all restraint. Strong political pressure from his own party might stop him, but even that might not be enough, unless he plans to stand for another election. It’s not hard to see, however, that Mr. Obama has carefully chosen to defy the courts and the Congress only on issues which are popular with his party. Most Democrats see no problem with his activism and are OK with what he has been doing. It is a rare Democrat who can foresee future trouble in the precedents their bold and dashing president is setting. Sooner or later a Republican will be president again. Wise Democrats will be asking: What then?
Naturally, Republicans are far more alarmed about Mr. Obama’s excursions into uncharted waters because they generally oppose the substance of his actions. That’s understandable, but GOP statesmen also need to warn voters about what could be in store for the country if a liberal Democrat like Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley or Elizabeth Warren gains the office. I doubt if we have seen anything yet to match what those eminences would do if they feel free to follow Mr. Obama’s trail-blazing example.
As never before, voters need to be wise and far-seeing when they choose a new president – not least because once a president is in office, voters can do very little to control him (or her).
We live in dangerous times.