Ordered Liberty

A Nation of Paper, Not of Men

In continuing the dramatic shift from American constitutional democracy to rule by executive fiat that has marked his tenure, President Barack Obama now claims that the illegal aliens, to whom he purports to grant what effectively is amnesty, are “Americans … in every single way but one — on paper.” That is false. They are not Americans under the only thing that matters, the thing the Obama administration has chanted like a mantra — while riding roughshod over  — since its very first day in power: the rule of law.

The Constitution and congressional statutes are written on parchment. That is the only relevance of “paper” in this equation — as the “hard copy” of our social contract and of the laws enacted pursuant to it. Under the Constitution, Congress, not the president, is endowed with such a power: “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.” Congress exercises this power by passing laws. Under the Constitution, which Obama took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend, and under the laws it is his duty to execute faithfully, illegal aliens — no matter how sympathetic their plight, no matter how blameless they may be for the illegality of their status — are not citizens of the United States. They are not Americans. Period. It is not “paper” that separates them from our body politic, it is the law, of which Obama is supposed to be servant, not master — as I argued in this September 2011 essay for The New Criterion: “The Ruler of Law — On ‘Justice’ in the Age of Obama.”

Nevertheless, immigration is only the context of the president’s latest usurpation. It is a critically important issue, yes, but the real gravity of what Obama has done lies not in the subject matter of his edict but in the authoritarian assumptions of its issuance. They transcend mere arrogance: the president proposes to eviscerate our constitutional system. He claims nothing less than the dictatorial power to pronounce what the law is. This usurpation, moreover, complements the dictatorial powers he has already claimed to enforce only the laws of his choosing and to use the police powers of his office to deprive the sovereign states and the people of their constitutional prerogatives and rights.

To be sure, a president has not only the authority but the duty to refrain from enforcing congressional statutes that violate the Constitution. Presidents are no less duty-bound in this regard than the federal courts, which are obliged to hold that such enactments are null and void when the question arises in litigation. That, however, is not what Obama is doing.

As John Yoo observes, there is no conceivable argument that the federal immigration laws are constitutionally suspect. Obama simply rejects them as a matter of policy preference. That itself is a blatant violation of his constitutional oath.

Lest we forget, the president of the United States is the only federal official required by the Constitution to swear, as a condition precedent to assuming the vast powers of his office, that he will “faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and … to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Nor ought we forget that every nominee to the Supreme Court and the office of attorney general is grilled by the Senate regarding his or her willingness to abide by and enforce those laws and precedents with which he or she, on policy grounds, disagrees. It is a bedrock principle that once the people’s representatives enact a law to which there is no plausible constitutional objection, government officials must honor that law — regardless of their personal views about it — unless and until it is repealed or amended through the process prescribed by the Constitution.

Nor can prosecutorial discretion remotely justify Obama’s gambit. Resources are finite. Practicality demands — and the law acknowledges — that good-faith judgments must be made by the Justice Department and other Executive Branch agencies regarding which violations of law are a priority to address and which may go unaddressed. President Obama, however, is not saying the Executive Branch lacks the resources to enforce the immigration laws. He is proclaiming that he chooses not to enforce them.

Moreover, he is not simply refraining from law enforcement. He is affirmatively obstructing the states from enforcing their sovereign right to police their territories. He furthermore proposes to confer positive benefits on a class of illegal aliens in order to legitimize their status, something it is in the power only of Congress to do and something which Congress — having considered the matter carefully, and having heard the objections of the American people — has specifically declined to do.

This is another instance of Obama’s brazen lack of regard for the system he is duty-bound to honor: He claims he cannot sit back and wait for Congress to act; but as he well knows, lawmakers have acted: They said “no.”

Obama is not merely failing to enforce the immigration laws. He is destroying the system on which our liberty depends, a system he swore to safeguard. This oath was a solemn one, of far greater consequence than, say, a pitcher’s oath to testify truthfully to Congress about steroid use — an incident over which the federal government has spent millions of taxpayer dollars in an effort to convict Roger Clemens of a felony, notwithstanding the utter absence of any federal interest in the integrity of professional baseball.

We are entitled to conclude Obama defrauded the American people in taking his oath of office. He prefaced the oath by unabashedly declaring his intention to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” He followed the oath with a series of usurpations designed to do just that. This highlights another mendacious aspect of Obama’s pandering to the hard Left on illegal immigration and, symmetrically, on election fraud (the policing against which he similarly obstructs).

The president says the young illegal aliens he has in mind are “Americans” except on paper. But who is Obama to say what an American is? By his own self-heralding, he is here to transform the United States. His mantra is “change.” He has stacked his Justice Department and the rest of the Executive Branch sprawl with progressive operatives whose obsession is to transmogrify America culturally, economically, and politically — to alter our very nature. When Obama talks about someone being “an American” or something being one of “our values,” he is not talking about the America that is; he is invoking the authoritarian, collectivist, redistributionist, post-sovereign, transnational America of his design.

It ought not matter whether we agree or disagree with Obama’s policy objectives on immigration — or the glut of areas from the use of force to labor relations to state sovereignty to socialized medicine to debt to diet, etc., on which he presumes to dictate rather than honor the law. Our social compact as a body politic demands that policy objectives be pursued within a system of divided powers in which the prerogatives of the president and of the federal government are strictly limited. Obama rejects this bedrock principle. Therefore, we must reject him.

If he is not removed from office — and if, while he retains office, politically accountable actors at the federal and state level continue their feckless failure to use their constitutional muscle to block him and rein him in — this will no longer be America. Not even on paper.