The Corner

Not Your Founding Fathers’ Constitution

The genius of our Constitution is the separation of powers, and checks and balances, designed to secure individual rights. At the center of our constitutional structure are principles of republican government and the rule of law. And giving life to these principles is the explicit delegation of lawmaking power to Congress. In a nation of laws, not men, it is appropriate that Congress — the people’s most direct representatives — is responsible for creating the laws. The Obama administration has routinely shown a disregard for this fundamental principle of republican government, taking it upon itself to rewrite or ignore the law when doing so serves its own preferred policies.

This administration is a serial violator of our constitutional separation of powers. They bypassed the Senate, and its constitutional responsibility to advise and consent, to recess appoint three members of the National Labor Relations Board even though the Senate was not in an appropriate recess. They effectively amended the nation’s immigration policy by granting tens of thousands of people legal status. And, with the stroke of a pen, they are unilaterally opening the door to gutting the work requirements that were the centerpiece of the 1996 welfare-reform law.

But what’s perhaps even more disturbing than the White House so flagrantly ignoring the Constitution is that congressional Democrats don’t seem to mind. There is a place for party loyalty. But every member of Congress takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and that includes the Constitution’s separation of powers. Unfortunately, Democrats seem to only selectively stand up for separation of powers. I remember well their crocodile tears about the exercise of executive power when President Bush was in office. Day after day, congressional Democrats blasted the White House, with one even tearing up the Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives to demonstrate his views on the Republicans’ treatment of our founding document.

I couldn’t have disagreed with them more about their assertions, but where’s their outrage now? With a Democrat in the White House, do they no longer care about the balance of our government as our Framers intended? I certainly hope that’s not the case.

The failure to stand up for limits on executive power and against attacks on Congress’s power to make the law is shortsighted. Power is fleeting, and while Democrats might control the White House and Senate for now, there’s no guarantee that’ll be the case come November. Even more important, it undermines respect for republican government, separation of powers, and the rule of law — the critical features of American constitutionalism that have made us a republic committed to securing natural rights. It seems that the president is always marching forward, pursuing some limitless notion of progress that leaves constitutional limits behind.

Our original Constitution and its carefully designed limits on power and delegation give legislative authority to the people’s representatives in Congress. By looking backward to the Founders’ Constitution, we can secure the blessings of liberty for another generation.  

— Senator Orrin Hatch is a Republican from Utah.

Orrin Hatch — Orrin G. Hatch is the chairman emeritus of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation. A Utah Republican, he served on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1977–2019.


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