Law & the Courts

The President Must Respect the Rule of Law

President Obama announces his immigration actions. (Pool image/Getty)
His immigration decrees are not just harmful and illegal; they’re unconstitutional.

American immigration law is composed of thousands of pages, written by dozens of Congresses and federal agencies over a span of decades, and signed into law by numerous U.S. presidents.

But President Barack Obama has decided that all that doesn’t matter, and that he can now rule by decree.

Regardless of whether you support or oppose the president’s amnesty plan, the simple fact remains that, in the United States, no individual may or should have that much unchecked power. It flies in the face of the rule of law, which in any government is all that stands between freedom and tyranny.

The rule of law is at the very heart of the case that Texas filed against President Obama in December, an action that has been joined by 25 other states, forming a bipartisan coalition. These plaintiffs are concerned about the president’s unilateral use of executive power to accomplish through edict what he could not achieve legislatively.

And that’s why the full injunction that we won from U.S. district judge Andrew Hanen is so important: It has stopped the president from single-handedly enacting what is effectively a whole new system of laws, in the process granting amnesty to millions of people who came to this country illegally.

Before the court issued its injunction, the federal government was hard at work hiring staff and preparing to distribute forms and information for millions of illegal immigrants to apply for work authorizations. As the court’s opinion made abundantly clear, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to “put the genie back in the bottle” and undo this step once it has been taken.

That was, of course, before last week’s admission by the administration that it had already begun granting expanded employment authorizations to illegal immigrants, in direct contradiction of what it told a U.S. federal court.

It’s also important to remember that the president’s illegal action is a slap in the face to all the people who have tried to come to the United States through established, legal means. The president aims to reward instead those who felt the law shouldn’t apply to them.

All that is disturbing, but more disturbing still is when any president usurps power by circumventing the legislative process to create new laws by decree. No president can legally do that. Our founders considered such assertions of power to be the essence of tyranny. That’s why Texas and our fellow states stood up and challenged the president’s unconstitutional and illegal actions.

President Obama’s autocratic directives would have had a major impact on every state. They would have placed stresses on our economy, our schools, our public-safety programs — practically every aspect of society. But not only did President Obama leave the states out of the discussion; he circumvented Congress as well, cutting our representatives in Washington out of the process completely. It’s not surprising that Congress has been hesitant to fund DHS after President Obama’s actions, seemingly agreeing to restore funding only after our injunction was in place.

The president may not like that Congress writes our immigration laws, but that doesn’t give him the right to pretend those laws don’t exist. And it doesn’t give him the authority to replace them with ones he made up on his own.

President Obama himself has said numerous times over the past few years that he lacks the authority to do precisely what he is now trying to do. In October 2010, during an interview on immigration, he said, “I am president, I am not king. I can’t do these things just by myself.”

Then, last November, at the announcement of his sweeping executive order, he proclaimed, “I just took an action to change the law.”

What had changed since he made his initial assertions? His attitude, perhaps. A Republican takeover of Congress, definitely.

But the law of the United States hasn’t changed. And that’s what makes his actions not only illegal, but unconstitutional.

Consider also the precedent that may be set. Allowing President Obama’s actions to stand sends the message that any president is now the supreme authority in the nation. This would give the president unchecked power to legislate from the Oval Office.

Along with 25 other states, Texas will continue to fight as long as it takes to preserve our American democracy and restore the rule of law.

— Ken Paxton is the attorney general of Texas.


The Latest