Posts tagged ‘Executive Branch’

More Thoughts on Immigration -- Why I Think the Tiberius Gracchus Analogy is Particularly Apt

First, congrats to many millions of people who can remain in this country, a status they should have always have had.  We can argue whether anyone who makes his or her way over the border should be able to vote or draw benefits, but there is no doubt in my mind that they should be able to live anywhere they can pay the rent and work anywhere that there is an employer willing to pay them.

I am willing to accept the analysis of folks like Ilya Somin who say that the President's non-enforcement decision on immigration laws is legal.  But I think his concept of "precedent" when he says there are precedents for this sort of thing is way too narrow.  This is an important, dangerous new precedent.

What I think folks are missing who make this argument about precedent is that while many examples exist of the Executive Branch excercising proprietorial discretion, the circumstances are without precedent in both scale and well as in its explicit defiance of legislative intent.  One can argue that Reagan's executive actions vis a vis immigration provide a precedent, for example, but Reagan was essentially following the intent of then-recent Congressional legislation, arguably just fixing flaws with executive orders in the way that legislation was written.  What he did was what Congress wanted.

The reason I think Tiberius Gracchus is a good analog is that Gracchus too took actions that were technically legal.  Tribunes always technically had the legal power to bypass the Senate, but in hundreds of years had never done so.  Despite their technical legality, his actions were seen at the time as extremely aggressive and plowing new Constitutional ground, ground that would soon become a fertile field for authoritarians to enhance their power.

Somin includes the following, which I think is an example of where defenders of the President's process (as different from the outcomes) are missing reality.  He writes:

I would add that the part of the president’s new policy offering work permits to some of those whose deportation is deferred in no way changes the analysis above. The work permits are merely a formalization of the the president’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion here, which indicates that the administration will not attempt to deport these people merely for being present in the United States and attempting to find jobs here. They do not purport to legalize their status, and the policy of nondeportation can be reversed at any time by the president or his successor.

This is one of those statements that are technically true, but totally obtuse at the same time.   Issuing formal get-out-of-jail-free cards to 5 million people is unprecedented.  Think of it this way:  Imagine a Republican President who is opposed to the minimum wage.  The Executive branch is tasked with enforcing that law, so wold the folks defending the President's methods also argue hat the government can issue permits to 5 million businesses allowing them to  ignore labor law?  Or emissions standards?  Or insider trading laws?

People are just being blinded by what they rightly see as a positive goal (helping millions of people) if they fail to see that the President issuing licenses to not be prosecuted for certain crimes is a huge new precedent.  Proprietorial discretion is supposed to be used to avoid patent unfairness in certain cases (e.g. the situation in Colorado with conflicting state and Federal laws on marijuana).  It is not meant to be a veto power for the President over any law on the books.  But I can tell you one thing -- it is going to be seen by future Presidents as just this.  Presidents and parties change, and for those of you swearing this is a totally legal, normal, fully-precedented action, be aware that the next time 5 million wavers are issued, it may well be for a law you DO want enforced.  Then what?

Update:  Libertarians are making the case that the Constitution never gave Congress the power to restrict immigration.  I could not agree more.  However, I fear that will have zero impact on the precedent that will be inferred from all this.  Because what matters is how the political community as a whole interprets a precedent, and I think that this will be interpreted as "the president may issue mass waivers from any law he does not like."  Now, since I dislike a hell of a lot of the laws on the books, perhaps over time I will like this precedent.  But the way things work is that expansive new executive powers seldom work in favor of liberty in the long run, so I am skeptical.

Inverting the Constitution

When the framers of the Constitution designed its separation of powers features, they presumed that members of each of the three branches would try to protect their own turf.  In other words, grabs of power by one branch would be met by hard pushback from other branches.

What they did not anticipate was that Congress would simply give away power to the Executive.  It seems like Congressman only want their job titles, and maybe the ability to pass a few earmarks for the home district now and then, and would really like not to be bothered by that whole legislation thing.  After all, your election opponents can't critique you for votes that were never taken.

This has been occuring for years, with the accretion of regulatory authorities (like the EPA) whose rules-making effectively usurps traditional Congressional regulatory authority.

More recently, the Democrats in Congress gave away immense power in Obamacare by creating an independent cost cutting board.  Cost cutting suggestions of this board become law automatically unless Congress votes to override the changes, and even then they cannot override without passing cost cuts of similar magnitude on their own.  The whole point was to take legislation of things like the doc fix, which just gets everyone riled up, out of the sphere of Congressional accountability.

Now the Senate Republicans are proposing what appears to me to be exactly the same bullsh*t vis a vis the debt limit.  The debt limit is in fact a poor name.  In fact, it should be called the debt authorization.  Issuance of government debt can only by Constitutionally authorized by Congress, but instead of giving the Administration a blank check, it authorizes the Treasury to issue debt up to some limit, kind of like the limit on a credit card and serving much the same purpose.  While Democrats talk about the debt limit as if it is some useless device, sort of like an appendix, it is in fact central to the excercise of power by both branches as set up in the Constitution.

Senate Republicans, though, want to change all that by giving the Executive Branch what amounts to a credit card with no limit.  Why? Again, Congress is just dead tired of being so accountable for so many difficult decisions, and it would rather turn the President in to an Emperor than have to face difficult questions at reelection time.  This is so gutless I could scream:

The debt limit now works as an only if proposition: the debt limit is increased only if Congress votes affirmatively to authorize an increase. Increasing the debt limit therefore requires a majority of the House and Senate to cast a difficult aye vote, plus a Presidential signature. The McConnell proposal would invert this into an unless proposition: the debt limit would automatically be increased unlessCongress voted to stop it. And by changing the key vote to a veto override, you would need only 1/3 of either the House or Senate to take a tough vote to allow the debt limit to increase.

In exchange for this significant increase in Presidential authority, the President would take most of the political heat for the debt limit increase, and he would be required to propose difficult spending cuts of an equal or greater amount.

Congresspersons of both parties don't give a cr*p about the Constitution or fiscal responsibility.  They just want to avoid accountability.

Fortunately, I can see the House buying this at all.  The House has a special role in spending and taxation, and I see them far more loath to accept this kind of deal.

Exaggerated Security Threats and Civil Liberties

From Eric L Muller's "Hirabayashi:  The Biggest Lie of the Greatest Generation" which studies the Supreme Court decision upholding race-based civil rights restrictions (eg curfews) in WWII.

This Article presents new archival evidence of an enormous lie that Executive Branch officials presented to the Supreme Court in the Japanese American litigation of World War II, one that impugns Hirabayashi at least as much as it does Korematsu. The lie concerns what might be termed the "external" component of the national security threat in early 1942 "“ the danger that Japanese military forces posed to the West Coast of the United States.  The government's brief in Hirabayashi did not mince words about that external threat: The "principal danger" that military officials "apprehended" was "a Japanese invasion"  which "might have threatened the very integrity of our nation."  With the Japanese "at the crest of their military fortunes," the brief maintained, military officials found it "imperative" to "take adequate protective measures against a possible invasion of the West Coast."  The nighttime curfew on Japanese Americans was one such measure.

This depiction of the external Japanese threat found a sympathetic audience in the Supreme Court in Hirabayashi. Chief Justice Stone, writing for the unanimous Court, accepted that the men "charged with the responsibility of our national defense had ample ground for concluding that they must face the danger of invasion," a danger that concurring Justice Douglas insisted was "not fanciful but real." Singling out Japanese Americans for curfew was reasonable because of their "ethnic affiliations with an invading enemy."

Archival records now make clear that all of this talk of a threatened Japanese invasion was a massive distortion of the actual military situation in the eastern Pacific in early 1942. There was at that time no danger of a Japanese invasion of the West Coast. The army and navy viewed any sort of Japanese invasion of California, Oregon, or Washington as impracticable. They were neither anticipating nor preparing for any such event. Indeed, during the key time period of early 1942, the Army was more concerned with scaling back the defense of the West Coast from land attack than with bolstering it.

Wow.  Exaggeration of a security threat as an excuse to curtail civil rights.  Gee, I'm sure glad that doesn't happen anymore.  HT:  Jonathon Adler