President Identifies Limits On His Executive Powers (In Response To Heckler)

November 26th, 2013

President Obama has construed his Article II powers very broadly. In the context of drug law enforcement, immigration enforcement, and ACA enforcement, the President has seen fit to exempt huge chunks of the population from the law based on his notion of prosecutorial discretion. Yet, he is still deporting people at a very high rate (much to the consternation of immigrant rights advocates). Such a high rate, that he was heckled at an event in San Francisco by someone his team vetted, and put on the stage behind him.

This exchange is fascinating.

“Mr. Obama, my family has been separated for 19 months now!” yelled a young man who stood with others on the riser behind the president at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center.

Mr. Obama continued to speak, but the man did not let up. “You have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country,” he said.

Let’s pause here. The President invoked his executive power to stop deportation for the Dreamers, even though Congress specifically rejected that proposal. (Is this Youngstown zone 3? As Jackson put it, when “the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb.”). But, the President is seeking congressional authorization here, where he has not done so in the past. He unilaterally waived a healthcare requirement for millions of Americans. But he will not stop deportation.

The President’s response is even more interesting.

The president turned to address him. “Actually, I don’t,” he said. “And that’s why we’re here.”

Here, the President identified a limit on his executive power. I don’t know what that limit is. But he can’t do this.

As the event’s organizers tried to remove the man, Mr. Obama signaled no. “I respect the passion of these young people because they feel deeply about the concerns for their families,” he said. But, he continued, the United States is a nation of laws, and “it is not simply a matter of us just saying we’re going to violate the law.”

Now there’s some chutzpah. I would like to see the OLC memo that justifies his delay of Obamacare in this “nation of laws.”