The Corner

White House

Presidents Cannot Engage in Official ‘Acts of Civil Disobedience’

Detail of George III of the United Kingdom, 1771, by Johann Zoffany. (Public domain/via Wikimedia)

The Nation’s Elie Mystal explains that he won’t be applying the same legal standards to President Biden as he did to President Trump because he likes what President Biden is doing:

This, I suppose, is exactly the point at which I’m supposed to join the chorus of pundits and chastise Biden for his Trumpian use of executive power and for embracing what is likely an illegal action. The court made itself clear, but the president is going ahead anyway—where have we heard that story before? It would be a perfect, virtue-signaling layup for me to say, “I criticized Trump and now I criticize Biden” because “process matters” and “the ends can’t justify the means.” Then, everybody could bask in the warm glow of my intellectual consistency.

But I just can’t join in the legal tut-tutting. I come from a tradition in which you sometimes have to violate bad laws—by any means necessary. Sometimes you have to do an illegal thing and get rebuked or arrested doing it to highlight the injustice of the system. Cori Bush was interviewed on the steps of the Capitol, and she said, “If you take an ‘L,’ you take an ‘L,’ but at least you tried.” These are the people I come from.

“These are the people I come from,” writes Mystal. But they’re not — at least, not unless Mystal comes from a long line of American presidents. He continues:

What Biden has done in issuing this eviction moratorium is an act of civil disobedience. He and his administration know the law. They know the consequences. They know they’re buying only a little more time for the people they’re trying to help, and they know that, when the court smacks them down, its ruling will be widely framed as a devastating rebuke by a mainstream media class desperate to show that it can be critical of “both sides.” The Biden administration is going to take an “L.”

This is nonsense. Presidents cannot engage in acts of “civil disobedience” in the same way that you or I can, because, among other things, they have been explicitly charged with faithfully executing the law.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Joe Biden said when he was inaugurated:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States

If Joe Biden feels that he can no longer enforce the law, then he can resign. But for as long as he is in office, and for as long as “he and his administration know the law” — as Mystal confirms he does here — he is obliged to “faithfully execute” his oath. There’s no such thing as “civil disobedience” for the president. There is only the law. By inventing absurd justifications for getting what he wants, Mystal is confirming that neither he nor Joe Biden care much about that.

Recommended

The Latest

The Blake Masters Vision

The Blake Masters Vision

The Peter Thiel–backed candidate is running to disrupt, in his words, ‘decades of bipartisan failure.’ Can he help the GOP reclaim the Senate majority?