Politics & Policy

What Not Even the King of England Could Do

Detail of portrait by Allan Ramsey, 1762
A federal researcher points out George III couldn’t suspend laws — as many say Obama just did.

Remember those WWJD bracelets that were so popular in the ’90s? Well, an expert at the Law Library of Congress — a non-partisan branch of the Library of Congress that has advised Congress and the Supreme Court since 1832 — tackled a slightly different question: What would George III do when faced with a law he didn’t like?

Not even the King of England at the time of the American Revolution had the authority to suspend laws unilaterally, the Law Library expert wrote in a memorandum to the Senate committee tasked with responding to President Obama’s recent executive orders on the enforcement of immigration law.

One hundred years before the American Revolution, another British king had “attempted to suspend a number of laws,” contributing to the onset of the Glorious Revolution in England, a senior foreign-law specialist at the Law Library writes in the memo to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “King George III,” the specialist goes on to remind the committee, “was thus unable to enact or repeal any laws unilaterally without the involvement of Parliament.”

The memo, obtained by National Review Online, was written in response to a request by Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), according to a top aide in his office. It does not address the question of whether Obama’s latest executive actions amount to a suspension of the laws, although Obama and other Democrats referred to such orders as a decision to “suspend” deportations. But it is a clear and incendiary jab at the president, just days before House and Senate Republicans are scheduled to attend a joint retreat in Pennsylvania to discuss their agenda for the 114th Congress.

At the top of the list: Deciding on a response to Obama’s decision to “suspend” deportations of millions of illegal immigrants, who will instead receive some of the benefits of legal status. The GOP regards Obama’s executive orders as a way of rewriting the law without congressional input. House Republicans decided to use a Department of Homeland Security–funding bill to block implementation of the orders issued in November, as well as other related immigration-policy decisions. That bill may struggle in the Senate, where some Republicans up for reelection in Democratic-leaning states worry about a political backlash.

One such Republican, Senator Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), told Politico that the House bill “leads us to a potential government shutdown scenario, which is a self-inflicted political wound for Republicans.” Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who helped write the Gang of Eight immigration bill that died in the House, has signaled a willingness to separate the DHS funding from an attempt to restrain Obama. “Defunding that part of the bill that deals with enforcing the executive order makes sense, but we can’t go too far here, because look what happened in Paris,” Graham said last week. “The Department of Homeland Security needs to be up and running.”

Sessions disagrees. “A constitutional breach of this magnitude demands nothing less than a vigorous, public, disciplined campaign to rally the nation behind a Republican effort to deny the president the funds he would need to carry it out,” he writes in a 23-page “immigration handbook” distributed to every congressional Republican on Monday and obtained by NRO. To politicians who worry about losing votes over the issue, Sessions replies by citing the midterm-election results and a referendum in the blue state of Oregon that saw voters overturn a law granting drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants.

“The largest untapped constituency in American politics are the 300 million American citizens who have been completely left out of the immigration debate,” Sessions writes in the memo.

Although Sessions has a short-term goal of influencing the debate over the DHS-funding bill, the memo reads like a primer for incoming freshmen lawmakers who might be swayed on immigration. In an implicit shot at party leadership, Sessions complains that “we receive more talking points about the trade bills and a pipeline than about saving the American worker from the dissolution of our borders.” He also issues a broadside against “the recent Obama-backed ‘immigration reform’ bill rejected by Congress” — that is, the Gang of Eight legislation drafted with the help of four Senate Republicans, including Graham and Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.).

“For American citizens, the legislation offered nothing except lower wages, higher unemployment, and a heavier tax burden,” Sessions writes. “What sense does it make to continue legally importing millions of low-wage workers to fill jobs while sustaining millions of current residents on welfare?”

He also suggests that those “senior Republicans” who favor expanding the pool of foreign high-skilled workers are in the pocket of tech companies. “It is understandable why these corporations push for legislation that will flood the labor market and keep pay low; what is not understandable is why we would ever consider advancing legislation that provides jobs for the citizens of other countries at the expense of our own,” the handbook says. “Who do we work for?”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review Online.

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