Reining in Executive Overreach

The Problem

The Constitution is clear: it is Congress’s duty to write our laws and, once they are enacted, it is the President’s responsibility to enforce them.  Article II, section 3, of the U.S. Constitution declares that the President “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” However, President Obama has failed on multiple occasions to enforce Acts of Congress that he disagrees with for policy reasons and has also stretched his regulatory authority to put in place policies Congress has refused to enact. While President Obama is not the first to stretch his presidential powers beyond constitutional limits, executive overreach has accelerated at an alarming rate under this Administration.

Some examples of President Obama’s failure to take care that the laws are faithfully executed include delaying the Obamacare employer mandate; refusing to enforce our immigration laws; granting welfare work requirement waivers in violation of the 1996 welfare reform law; failing to enforce federal drug laws in states that permit medical and recreational marijuana use; and the announcement that the Justice Department will stop prosecuting low-level drug offenders under mandatory minimum sentencing laws. While there are varying opinions on these important issues within Congress, the Constitution grants Congress, not the President, the power to make these decisions.

The Solution

The ENFORCE the Law Act: On March 4, 2014, Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) introduced the Executive Needs to Faithfully Observe and Respect Congressional Enactments of the Law (ENFORCE the Law) Act (H.R. 4138) to rein in the growing problem of executive overreach and restore balance to the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution. The legislation was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 18-14.

Specifically, the ENFORCE the Law Act puts a procedure in place to permit the House, or the Senate, to authorize a lawsuit against the Executive Branch for failure to faithfully execute the laws.  The legislation also provides for expedited consideration of any such lawsuit, first through a three-judge panel at the federal district court level and then by providing for direct appeal to the United States Supreme Court. This expedited review is crucial in order to ensure that when a lawsuit is brought against the Administration to enforce our laws, the courts not only grant Congress standing, but also hear the case on an expedited timeline to prevent the President from stalling the litigation until his term is up. In addition, the bill statutorily mandates that the courts set aside their own court-created standing rules and thereby prevents courts from using procedural excuses to avoid making decisions in these important separation of powers cases.

UPDATE: The ENFORCE the Law Act passed the House of Representatives on 3/12/14 by a vote of 233-181.

Faithful Execution of the Law Act: In January, Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) introduced the Faithful Execution of the Law Act (H.R. 3973). This bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 17-11. The legislation strengthens current law and promotes transparency and honesty in the federal government by requiring all federal officials who establish or implement a formal or informal policy to refrain from enforcing a federal law to report to Congress on the reason for the non-enforcement.

UDPATE: The Faithful Executive of the Law Act passed the House of Representatives on 3/13/2014 by a vote of 244-171.

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