By Becket Adams — Feb. 27, 2014
A constitutional law expert warned Congress during a hearing Wednesday that America has reached a “constitutional tipping point” under the watch of President Barack Obama.
Jonathan Turley, professor of public interest law at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said the legislative branch of the U.S. government is in danger of becoming irrelevant in the face of continued executive overreach.
“My view [is] that the president, has in fact, exceeded his authority in a way that is creating a destabilizing influence in a three branch system,” Turley said. “I want to emphasize, of course, this problem didn’t begin with President Obama, I was critical of his predecessor President Bush as well, but the rate at which executive power has been concentrated in our system is accelerating. And frankly, I am very alarmed by the implications of that aggregation of power.”
“What also alarms me, however, is that the two other branches appear not just simply passive, but inert in the face of this concentration of authority,” he added.
Interestingly enough, Turley said he actually agrees with many of the president’s policies and positions — just not the way the White House has gone about implementing them.
“The fact that I happen to think the president is right on many of these policies does not alter the fact that I believe the means he is doing [it] is wrong, and that this can be a dangerous change in our system,” he said. “And our system is changing in a very fundamental way. And it’s changing without a whimper of regret or opposition.”
Turley stressed that Congress must take action if it wants to hold onto its power as the “thumping heart of our system.”
“We are now at the constitutional tipping point for our system. If balance is to be reestablished, it must begin before this president leaves office and that will likely require every possible means to reassert legislative authority,” he said.
“No one in our system can ‘go it alone’ – not Congress , not the courts , and not the president. We are stuck with each other in a system of shared powers — for better or worse. We may deadlock or even despise each other. The framers clearly foresaw such periods. They lived in such a period. Whatever problems we are facing today in politics, they are problems of our own making. They should not be used to take from future generations a system that has safeguarded our freedoms for over 250 years,” he added.
Also present at Wednesday’s hearing, titled “Enforcing the President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws,” was Price Foley, a law professor at Florida International University College of Law. She agreed with Turley, adding that Congress in in danger of becoming “superfluous.”
“Situations like this, these benevolent suspensions as they get more and more frequent and more and more aggressive, they’re eroding our citizens’ respect for the rule of law,” she said. “We are a country of law and not men. It’s going to render Congress superfluous.”
She said Congress hasn’t bothered with any meaningful legislation recently because it’s afraid the president would “simply benevolently suspend portions of the law he doesn’t like.”
“If you want to stay relevant as an institution, I would suggest that you not stand idly by and let the president take your power away,” she said.
The hearing spent a good deal of time discussing possible courses of action that could be taken to keep Obama’s so-called “imperial presidency,” as Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) called it, in check. The idea of filing articles of impeachment against the president was briefly discussed, but quickly replaced in favor of talk of lawsuits that could be brought against the White House.
Impeachment would “surely be extremely divisive within the Congress and the nation generally, and would divert the attention of Congress from other important issues of the day,” said Gerlach, who along with four other members of the House offered testimony on legislation that has been drafted to keep the president in check.
Gerlach is responsible for H.R. 857, the “Enforce the Take Care Clause Act,” which would make it easier and faster for federal courts to challenge executive actions.
“Given the growing number of examples where this President has clearly failed to faithfully execute all laws, I believe it is time for Congress to put in place a procedure for a fast-track, independent review of those executive actions,” he said.
Gerlach said he proposed the bill in response to the numerous Obamacare delays enacted by the White House.
“(T)he president, through his actions on the [Affordable Care Act], as well as in other areas of executive action, is fundamentally altering the delicate constitutional balance among the three branches of our federal system, and the concept of an ‘imperial presidency’ has reentered our national dialogue,” he said.
Watch the complete hearing here: