Obama Is Legally Allowed to Enforce—or Not Enforce—the Law

Amazingly, a professor at the University of Chicago’s law school wrote this in the New Republic, and he’s serious. Yet he cites not a single clause from the Constitution, not a single phrase, to support his…thesis.

Eric Posner wrote, among other things,

Would President Barack Obama, by refusing to enforce the immigration laws against millions of undocumented immigrants, be engaging in “domestic Caesarism,” as Ross Douthat charges [in a New York Times op-ed]?

…if he chooses not to enforce immigration laws against “up to half the country’s population of illegal immigrants,” as Douthat claims, the president wouldn’t be doing anything different from what his predecessors have done (or rather, not done).

There’s that Progressive morality, again. The rightness or wrongness of a behavior isn’t at all inherent in the behavior. No, the behavior’s morality is determined solely by whether someone else did it first or is doing it also.


The president cannot suspend or change the law: when he leaves office, the law will remain the same as it was, and the next president will be free to enforce it or not.

No, no president, nor Obama nor any “next president,” is free to not enforce the law (nor has any past president been, although past ones have been guilty of this, also; Posner is right on this much). Here’s what Article II, Section 3, has to say on the matter:

he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed

Full stop. There’s nothing in there about taking Care if he feels like it or taking Care not to faithfully execute.


The executive branch spends a lot of time not enforcing laws. Congress has illegalized an enormous amount of activity without giving the president the resources to enforce the laws, so the executive has no choice but to make a list of priorities and devote its attention to law violations that, in its opinion, are the most serious.


Nearly all of this non-enforcement takes place with implicit congressional acquiescence….

This merely means Congress may be failing its tasks, too (“may be:” Congress has no obligation to allocate money to be spent in amounts a president might demand. A case can be made, in fact, that Congress allocates too much as it is); it in no way legitimizes Presidential lawlessness. Certainly, a lack of resources does increase the difficulty for a President. However, the difficulty in no way legitimizes choosing not to enforce.

This is, also, a straw man. This President also chooses not to enforce laws for which he has the resources: the Business Mandate and the Individual Mandate of the ACA; border security; delivery of subpoenaed documents to the Congress that subpoenaed them, including Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS; refusing to comply with Congressional oversight; the list runs on.

Then there’s this:

People like Douthat wrongly think that separation of powers means that the president must do what Congress decides. That’s not the principle of separation of powers….

This is another straw man. The Constitution gave the President executive power for the purpose, among others, to take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, not to choose among them to enforce only those convenient to him. In this guise, the President must, indeed, do what Congress decides: he must enforce the laws that they pass—and that become actual law when he signs the bill and thereby enacts it, or when they pass it again, over his veto. To do otherwise is the principle of Executive supremacy, embodied in monarchies like an earlier Britain’s, against which we rebelled some years ago.

And this:

If Congress cannot pass any laws because of gridlock, then it has violated its obligations under the Constitution, and accordingly the president has the right to use his enforcement powers to implement policies that serve the public interest.

Of course, a President has no such right. There’s that pesky Art II, Sect 3 clause, after all, which also contains no syllable of authorization for a President to create “law” on which he might then presume to act. Further, in the entirety of that second Article of our Constitution, there’s no such “right,” or power, or authority identified.

Above all that, the President has no authority to decide what “policies…serve the public interest.” That’s the province of We the People, who are the public, and we make those determinations through our elected representatives in the Congress.

Posner’s piece goes on, but you get the idea.

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