Presidents and a “Nation of Laws”

President Barack Obama says, in the wake of the Zimmerman acquittal, that “we are a nation of laws.”  He says this against a backdrop of having chosen to selectively enforce (i.e., not enforce at all) immigration law is it applies to certain groups of illegal aliens, of having chosen to selectively enforce (i.e., not enforce at all) critical portions of his Obamacare law, having chosen not to pursue legal cases against those pleading out to voter intimidation, and so on.  In truth, he’s not alone in this—most American Presidents have chosen not to enforce this or that law, or this or that portion of a law.  This is done because a given President thinks it’s a bad law, it’s bad public policy to enforce it at this time, it’s bad politics to enforce it at this time, it’s….

This selective enforcement comes despite what Art II, Section 3, says about the President’s duty vis-à-vis Federal law:

…he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed….

There isn’t a caveat here, nor any wiggle room: the President must enforce Federal law.  Period.

What’s a President to do, then, when confronted with a law he (lately) believes illegitimate, or no longer useful, or…?  One way is found in the way some unions (especially police and traffic controllers) occasionally object to a bad contract or bad contract clause: strict, no exceptions enforcement of traffic law or aircraft separation in the two cases suggested.

Especially when confronted with a recalcitrant Congress, what better way to point up the absurdity of a bad law than to strictly enforce it?  Civil disobedience points up such absurdities through the protestors’ deliberate, noisy disobedience of a law and suffering the consequences, with those consequences emphasizing the absurdities.  Presidents have no option for civil disobedience; however, they can achieve the same emphasis, as police and air traffic controllers have demonstrated, by moving in the opposite direction.

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