Column: The road to constitutional crisis
CHANHASSEN -- Last week, President Obama declared that he would not implement United States law if it was politically or logistically inconvenient to do so. His administration quietly sent out a web posting advising the nation that large employers would not have to comply with the legal mandate to provide health insurance to their full-time employees.
Please don't get me wrong. I have always opposed Obamacare, believing that Minnesota has done an exceptional job of ensuring that every resident that wants health care coverage has access. In fact, as a state senator I was a party to the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. (I was one of many from across the nation who argued in the Supreme Court that the plan violated the limits of the Commerce Clause; ultimately the Court agreed, but upheld the mandates in Obamacare as a constitutional use of Congress's power to tax.)
I'd prefer that there be no implementation of Obamacare, but that is not my point. There is a much greater concern here. Like it or not, this law was passed by Congress, signed by the president and upheld in the Supreme Court. The president has no right or authority to delay implementation of United States ;aw; it is his duty to support and defend our Constitution and respect our laws. Presidents do not get to pick and choose which laws should be followed, or enforced, or by whom.
Yet this is not the first time; it has become a pattern, with too many recent examples:
n In June 2012, President Obama issued a directive ending the practice of enforcing immigration laws that require deporting people younger than 30 who came to the U.S. before age 16, and granting them a two year deferral. (Many may believe this is a just or merciful decision; please remember, my point is not about the result, it's about the power).
n After the June 30 revolution in Egypt, the president has said that he wants to continue foreign aid payments, even though U.S. law prohibits making non-humanitarian aid payments after a military coup d'état -- because the funds get paid to the military. (You may think the Egyptian military leaders did the right thing or the wrong thing here, but either way, a coup is still a coup under the legal definition, and the legal prohibition should not be ignored simply because it is inconvenient.)
n The National Security Agency under President Obama has sought and obtained hundreds of secret court orders, including one authorizing years of systematic blanket surveillance of the communications of innocent Americans. Secret law is not law: there has been no way for citizens to know of the existence, interpretation, execution or legal justification for these laws. This is a fundamental abuse of power by the federal government.
n President Obama's IRS illegally has targeted law-abiding taxpayers for harassment based upon their political views, and has target-audited these groups' donors. (This is the same IRS that is intended to enforce Obamacare mandates; we should be very concerned about additional abuses).
We do not have a king. We have a president who should never be above the law. If we can't live with or abide by our own laws, the answer is not to ignore them or apply them selectively -- we should change them, amend them or, better yet, repeal them.
We need a stronger Congress to exercise real oversight, and provide the meaningful checks and balances our constitutional framers envisioned as the answer to abuse of power by the executive branch. Both parties in Congress for too long have adopted the "hands off, it's our guy" approach when their president goes too far, so our next president is unlikely to enforce laws he doesn't like either -- unless something changes.
We need congressmen and women who will faithfully perform the responsibilities that they owe, not to their political parties, but to the American people -- to ensure that we have a Congress separate and independent from the president. Being a member of Congress is not like running a business; it's not a game show, and it's not a country club. We don't need to send millionaires or celebrities to Washington. We need and deserve dedicated and determined representatives and advocates for the people.
Each and every one of the signers of our Declaration of Independence committed an act of treason by declaring independence from the King of England. And the difference between the gallows and glory for each of them was the will and the courage to define and to overcome the force of tyranny. If we would honor their valor and the cause of freedom, we need to revive congressional oversight and its institutional independence, before our growing crisis of confidence turns into a full-blown constitutional crisis.
Julianne Ortman is a state senator, lawyer, and the ranking member of the tax committee in the Minnesota Senate. She currently resides in Chanhassen.