Radley Balko is justifiably happy that Obama is chucking the the theory that the President can detain people indefinitely at his whim:
President Obama yesterday eliminated the most controversial tools employed by his predecessor against terrorism suspects. With the stroke of his pen, he effectively declared an end to the "war on terror," as President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the U.S. government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad, the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing U.S. laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.
Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away: The military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility, where the rights of habeas corpus and due process had been denied detainees, will close, and the CIA is now prohibited from maintaining its own overseas prisons. And in a broad swipe at the Bush administration's lawyers, Obama nullified every legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch after Sept. 11, 2001.
It's worth emphasizing again here these steps Obama's taking effectively limit his own power. That's extraordinary.
But here is my cynical side coming out: It is easy to limit your own power in areas in which you have no desire to exercise it. Obama is doing great work here that needs to be done, but he is also not really giving up anything he cares to have. I could just as easily have written a story that said that Bush took brave steps to limit the power of the executive branch over CO2 emissions.
When Bush wanted to listen to phone conversations or to hold people incommunicado for years, he could have gone to Congress to seek such authority, or used the authority he already had but which was (rightly) limited by oversight from the judiciary. But terrorism was "too important" to bother with that stuff, so he did it by executive fiat.
So the real test, in my mind, is to see Obama's attitude towards executive power in an area where he really wants to get something done, and might not have the patience to wait for Congress. Obama is a different kind of guy, right? He would never expand executive power and short-circuit Congress just because he was in the hurry for something, would he?
President Barack Obama signed an executive order to force the auto industry to produce more fuel-efficient cars, an act he says will begin a new era of global leadership for the U.S.
I thought this was particularly clever rhetoric for continuing to gut the 10th Ammendment.
"The days of Washington dragging its heals are over," he declared, saying it should be easier for states to adopt tough fuel-efficiency rules. "My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them. We cannot afford to pass the buck or pass the burden onto the states."
We are not grabbing power here in Washington, we are just relieving them of the burden of governing themselves.
Update: By the way, I do believe the current version of the CAFE legislation gives the NHTSA and the EPA the ability to change the standard, so technically the administration has this power. However, typically changes to regulations must go through a public disclosure, comment, and review process, with a number of key requirements like economic impact studies. The reasons for these requirements is to try to offset (imprefectly) the enormous power Congress is delegating to the Administration in these regulations.
Per Wikipedia (yeah, take it with a grain of salt) the CAFE legislation says:
Congress specifies that CAFE standards must be set at the "maximum feasible level" given consideration for
- technological feasibility;
- economic practicality;
- effect of other standards on fuel economy; and
- need of the nation to conserve energy.
Obama, impatient with following the process (where have we seen that before?) cuts through it with an executive order. No one has gone through this process of making these tradeoffs -- Obama and a few advisors picked a number and ordered it into being. By doing so, he is in effect violating the spirit if not the actual text of the legislation in which the power to set CAFE standards was delegated to the agencies under him.