Rule of Law

Obama, Our Modern John C. Calhoun

One of the ideas that plunged America into the bloody Civil War was the belief that federal laws could be nullified by those who disagree with them. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was a chief proponent of the doctrine that Southern states could nullify federal laws if states disagreed with them. In announcing a lawless amnesty edict tonight, President Obama is our modern John C. Calhoun.

Elementary school civics class has taught the same thing for two hundred years: Congress makes the laws, the president enforces the laws, the judiciary interprets the laws. The reason this is so is because individual liberty thrives when government is hobbled by division of power. People live better lives when federal power is stymied.

When President Obama announces that he will be suspending laws to bless the illegal presence of millions of foreigners in the United States, he will have adopted the most basic philosophy of John C. Calhoun: some laws can be tossed aside because his ends justify the lawlessness.

John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun

Make no mistake about why Obama wants millions of foreigners to remain in the United States. He told us exactly why in 2008: he aims to “fundamentally transform” America.

One way to transform America is to import populations with cultural and legal traditions foreign to American traditions. Central and South America has a cultural tradition of instability in government, of graft, corruption, and civil strife. People from those countries bring an expectation that the systems are rigged against them, because oftentimes they are.

Obama wants to transform America by transforming who Americans are. Even if these millions are not granted the right to vote (immediately), their children, yet unborn, will be granted it by virtue of being natural-born citizens. Obama is playing the long game.

Obama learned the history of the 20th century: when radical statists take power quickly, openly, and brazenly, Americans will stand in the breach. Whether on the blazing beaches of Saipan, in the Ardennes snow, or in dark alleys in Bucharest, Americans will risk it all. But Americans are less familiar with a slow-moving threat to American values. The long game isn’t as recognizable to us.

The long game is what Putin plays in Eastern Europe, what radical Islam plays everywhere, and what Obama now plays domestically with amnesty. Obama just had to reach back and borrow some ideas from one of the most vociferous defenders of Southern slavery, and nullify laws he took an oath to enforce.

Take some comfort in this: executives acting lawlessly is a transgression as old as human history.  Charles I similarly ignored the law when he went so far as to dissolve a Parliament with which he disagreed. When he started running out of money to conduct his wars with France and Spain, he violated Magna Carta by imposing a forced loan on the monarchs without the consent of Parliament.

Charles I

Charles I

Magna Carta will be eight hundred years old next year. It stands for the principle that the executive is limited by the law. Kings, emperors, and now presidents have stood against the principles of Magna Carta. Tonight, Obama will add his name to the long list of consequentialists such as John C. Calhoun and Charles I who brazenly ignore laws to achieve their ends.

What will be the Republican response? Is the risk of a government shutdown more dangerous than a transformed America? Will the GOP recognize the dangerous line Obama has crossed, or will they channel Millard Fillmore in response to our modern Calhoun? Will they use the powers the Founders gave them to reign in executive lawlessness, or will they meekly punt the problem to the courts?

The future of much more than immigration policy is at stake.


(Note: One of the four original copies of Magna Carta will be on display in Washington, D.C. to celebrate its 800th year. The event is sponsored by the Federalist Society. Information can be found here.)