Presidential proclamations and executive orders can be a slippery slope. While we often applaud these Constitutional executive instruments when ‘our guy (or gal)’ occupies the White House, we are quick to criticize when the other team actively issues its own orders. I was very pleased watching President Obama’s speech from the Rose garden where he talked about his latest executive order ending deportation of young adults who were brought to this country illegally when they were young. It is a safe bet to say that support and displeasure will fall along political lines.
But there are difficult question our Republic faces. Does the constitutionally balanced form of our government get out of balance when the executive can issue orders and in the process eradicate the prescribed checks? Does our Republic become a monarchy? Is what’s good for the goose, good for the gander? After all, thousands of executive orders have been issued since George Washington issued executive order #1 on June 8, 1789 instructing department heads to make a “clear account” of matters in their departments.
The issue of executive power is not trivial. Presidents from both sides of the aisle have pushed the power of the Presidency and have seen their efforts contested by both Congress and the courts. Today, very few people would consider President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation consisting of two executive orders bad for the nation, but how would the suspension of Habeas Corpus be received today? On the other hand, when President Truman tried to nationalize the steel mills he was overruled by the courts as it was deemed an abuse of power of which only Congress was duly empowered.
While most executive orders are trivial, many can have potentially legal and constitutional implications, where the most ‘threatening’ would actually encroach or obliterate the Bill of Rights:
- Executive Order 10990 allows the government to take over all modes of transportation and control of highways and seaports.
- Executive Order 10995 allows the government to seize and control the communication media.
- Executive Order 10997 allows the government to take over all electrical power, gas, petroleum, fuels and minerals.
- Executive Order 10998 allows the government to take over all food resources and farms.
- Executive Order 11000 allows the government to mobilize civilians into work brigades under government supervision.
- Executive Order 11001 allows the government to take over all health, education and welfare functions.
- Executive Order 11002 designates the Postmaster General to operate a national registration of all persons.
- Executive Order 11003 allows the government to take over all airports and aircraft, including commercial aircraft.
- Executive Order 11005 allows the government to take over railroads, inland waterways and public storage facilities.
Which brings us to President Obama’s recent executive order. Obama haters, Libertarians, RWNJ’s, conservatives, and some independents will criticize the President and call him a tyrannical monarch wannabe. Well if you don’t like it, ask your Congressman to overturn it or file suit in federal court. For those that are critical of this order, they should be critical of all similar orders regardless of party and regardless of content. I believe executive orders are legal and necessary when the will of the government and the people fail to meet the challenge.
I have been gone on record of an active government when it comes to wronging social injustices and looking forward, not backward. When the government, especially the executive, exceed its constitutional authority, we hope the courts step in. FDR’s executive order 9066 established Japanese internment camps, something we all agree today was a grave mistake, issued under the fear of mainland sabotage and espionage from Japanese after the Pearl Harbor attack. Similar mistakes were made following the 9/11 attacks, once again executive orders all in the name of national security.
I am always suspect of increased executive powers even when I may agree with the order in question due to the precedent setting possibilities enabling future executives to become too extreme. Then again a packed Supreme Court, congressional super majority, and executive branches all being controlled by the same party is equally scary. An opposition Congress that has blocked the President at every turn and where 60 is the new 50 in the senate enables the executive to take the road that Congress is the enemy of progress.
So socially progressive executive orders from any President will always be welcome, socially regressive or restrictive orders will be received with skepticism. Yes, I guess you can say that I accept that doing the right thing the wrong way as an acceptable policy.