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Mr. President, you are not a king

| Monday, April 11, 2016

Last week, President Barack Obama announced he had granted commutations to 61 inmates serving sentences for a variety of crimes, including firearms crimes, drug trafficking and conspiracy or intent to distribute substantial amounts of cocaine. One-third of those whose sentences were commuted had been sentenced to life in prison.

These most recent actions bring Obama’s total commutations to 248 since taking office, a number which the White House proudly announced was more than the past six presidents combined. He has thus far commuted 92 life sentences. The president has reaffirmed his commitment to clemency as his administration continues its review of another 9,115 pending petitions from convicted criminals.

Though the pardon clause of the Constitution empowers the president to grant clemency, Obama’s actions last week reflect a broader inclination of the White House to take steps to subvert those laws which he believes to be contrary to his personal beliefs. Unfortunately, Obama’s continued undermining of federal sentencing laws are consistent with his now-established pattern of refusing to uphold any laws with which he personally disagrees. Obama’s conduct has doubtlessly increased the political polarization in Washington and has served to further undermine America’s confidence in the presidency.

Article 2 of the United States Constitution could not be clearer. In confirming that even the president is not above the bedrock principle of the primacy of the rule of law, Article 2 requires that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” The president simply cannot violate the separation of powers and usurp the obligation of Congress to create laws. While the president can certainly point out the unjust results of those laws with which he disagrees, he is not free to ignore his obligation to follow and enforce them. Unfortunately, Obama has taken presidential discretion to a new level by implementing laws never passed by Congress and, in effect, repealing those laws (such as sentencing guidelines) with which he disagrees. While his actions in commuting the sentences of a record number of convicted criminals concededly has a constitutional basis, Obama’s actions nonetheless further demonstrate this administration’s disrespect for the rule of law and the Constitution.

The administration’s refusal to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a perfect example. Though lawfully enacted, in 2012, then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the administration had unilaterally concluded DOMA violated the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee as applied to same-sex couples proclaiming that “the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny.” Rather than faithfully executing the laws, Holder announced that, “The President has also concluded that [DOMA] as applied to legally married same-sex couples fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional.”

The Obama administration has followed a similar path in its handling of undocumented immigrants. In a 100-page report, the Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that the Department of Homeland Security “decouple federal immigration enforcement from routine local policing for civil enforcement and non-serious crime.” In effect, the administration unilaterally made the decision to ignore federal law and direct immigration officials to defer deportation proceedings against as many as an estimated 1.7 million illegal aliens. Ironically, a year before issuing the directive that the law be ignored, Obama, in promoting the enactment of the Dream Act, acknowledged that, “The president doesn’t have the authority to simply ignore Congress and say, ‘We’re not going to enforce the laws you’ve passed.’” It was only when Congress would not deliver his legislative agenda that Obama shifted directions and ordered the implementation of what is, in effect, an amnesty scheme for illegal aliens that lacks congressional approval.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration will leave a legacy of action more consistent with a monarch rather than a president confined by constitutional boundaries. Obama may well want to change the sentencing guidelines, the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal immigration laws, drug enforcement laws (particularly as applied to marijuana), the federal minimum wage laws, or a host of other federal statutory schemes. However, merely because Congress refuses to follow his legislative agenda does not empower he and his administration to ignore the Constitution and create laws on their own or change laws by refusing to enforce them. Under the Constitution, Congress is charged with enacting laws and it is the obligation of the Executive to enforce the law as enacted. Obama has repeatedly proven that he wants to act as a legislator as well as an Executive.

Mr. President, you are not a king. Please respect the constitutionally-required checks on your power.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Jordan Ryan

Jordan Ryan, sophomore resident of Lyons Hall, studies Political Science and Peace Studies along with minors in Constitutional Studies and Business Economics. She can be reached at jryan15@nd.edu

Contact Jordan
  • what no really


  • cesarBaderhernandez

    You are literally the worst type of person.

    • Patrick O’Connor

      Really good argument, Cesar.

  • Sean Long

    Once upon a time, there was a policeman in the town of Pleasantville. His name was Jordan Ryan. Jordan took his job very seriously, because he was the one thing standing between the citizens of Pleasantville and the dark chaos of lawlessness.

    Concerned about a recent set of accidents in Pleasantville park, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance. A sign was erected by the entrance of the park, “NO VEHICLES ALLOWED: $250 fine.” The measure was a success and very quickly the accidents in the park came to a halt.

    One day a few weeks later, Jordan was on patrol in the park. It was a lovely spring day. Jordan heard a low buzzing in the distance. Maybe it was a bumble bee, or an airplane in the distance. The buzzing grew louder and louder. It was coming closer. It must be a vehicle! And surely it was coming close to the park. Jordan got his handy ticket pad ready and turned around.

    The lawbreaker, proudly flaunting the venerable council of Pleasantville, was a man in a wheelchair. “Hey, can’t you read the sign?” asked Jordan, shaking his head as he started jotting down in his notebook.

    “Sorry, sir,” replied the man. “Can’t we let it go just this once? I’m a veteran, you see, and I lost my legs in Felucia. Besides, do you really think the city council meant this to apply to wheelchairs?”

    “No vehicles in the park,” Jordan answered.

    “Please, sir. I really need every dollar I have. It’s very hard for me to keep a job right now. The park is one of the few pleasures I have left in this life.”

    “Sorry buddy, take it up with your representative,” Jordan said as he signed the ticket and stuck it to the side of the motorized wheelchair. He turned and walked away glowing with the confidence that he had done his job.

    • terrie

      WOW – Long – maybe you need to come out of Pleasantville and back into the real world! – think about it

      • Long Keenan

        Terri – I have thought about it…. thought I would get back to u…. but I still disagree

    • Jack Hurley

      If the democratic government of Pleasantville gave her one job, to “preserve, protect, and defend” the laws, and the law defined vehicles to include wheelchairs, then she definitely has to give them a ticket. This incident is proof that the law is flawed, and so you should change it. The person who is in charge of executing the law cannot be the one saying, “Eh, whatever, I think it’s kind of a dumb law anyway, I’ll let it slide.”

    • TERRY

      I’m sure you think of your piece as devilishly clever, etc., but as a veteran I don’t find it so.

  • Julio Salazar

    You ignore simple facts, such that the sentences he commutes are in violation of the 8th Amendment as “excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishment” for drug and sometime first time offenses. You also ignore the humanity the president has shown in keeping migrant families together and allowing undocumented students to pursue education, all while using an offensive term “illegal aliens.” If that weren’t enough, you show your own bigotry and contempt for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Why should they be denied the right to love? President Obama has no violated the Constitution, rather he has defended the ideas which this nation was founded on, securing the Blessings of Liberty.

    • MC

      The courts and their constitutionally-appointed judges have the full ability to decide which sentences are in violation of the 8th amendment and which are not. That is the proper function and express power of the courts. The Constitution is supposed to balance power by putting certain powers out of reach of certain branches of government. It seems here that there has been an overreach.

  • terrie

    Very good article. It presents the thought of many of us. you know – the tax paying hard working middle class people trying to get by…. good job

  • MC

    This article is straight fire.

  • MC

    Great article! Glad someone is pointing out the absolute disregard for separation of powers and Constitutional boundaries by this administration

  • Jack Hurley

    Great article. The executive branch has the sole power and responsibility of enforcing the laws of the United States, and the Obama administration has not always shown much interest in doing so. Another example is the way the Department of Justice has handled marijuana. Although marijuana is still illegal federally, then-AG Holder basically told all US Attorneys not to worry about prosecuting it where states had legalized it. Combined with President Obama’s emphasis on clemency specifically for drug offenders and not for other crimes, you get the feeling that he not only doesn’t like enforcing certain laws but is working to undermine them. The federal marijuana policy is stupid, and President Obama can and should ask Congress to change the law. However, when the law is inadequate for society, the correct course of action for the executive is to try to change, not to disregard it.

  • João Pedro Santos

    In most European monarchies, kings have no political power (they just go to ceremonies). Since Obama is not a king and was democratically elected, he is supposed to do stuff, you know…

  • Charles Barbour

    Doesn’t the fact that Obergfell v Hodges effectively nullified DOMA give some credence Obama and Holder’s decision to not waste money and effort enforcing it?

  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    The U.S. sentencing commission actually changed the sentencing guidelines, and Eric Holder supported it…