It’s not every year that Broadway’s Best Musical Tony Award goes to a show about a rapping Founding Father, but that’s just what happened with “Hamilton.” Not surprisingly, Alexander Hamilton — an original signer of the Constitution — recognized how important the document was for our success as a Republic. Today we celebrate the 230th anniversary of its signing.
When faced with the question, “What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic?” Hamilton answered, “An inviolable respect for the Constitution and laws — the first growing out of the last … A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.”
Some of our current leaders fail to accord the Constitution the sacred respect Hamilton knew it deserved. Our Founding Fathers crafted the Constitution to separate the powers among the three branches of our federal government to ensure no single authority could amass too much unchecked power. But today’s elected officials ignore that fundamental demand and grant too much authority to one branch — the executive — of our government. The first generation of American leaders rebelled against just such a system in the British monarchy and feared it rearing its head again.
In some respects it has. Our legislators too willingly pass laws that cede authority to an “alphabet soup” of executive agencies.
To be sure, these agencies have an important and proper role to play. But our legislators abdicate their constitutional responsibility when they pass open-ended, vague laws and then delegate to agency bureaucrats the power to draft rules purportedly consistent with those laws. Too often, the bureaucrats then draft and enforce rules that call for enforcement on a case-by-case basis, making it difficult for everyday Americans to know what is illegal and plan their actions accordingly.
This administrative system of government corrupts the executive branch by bestowing it with power far beyond that delineated in the Constitution. Then, these same executive agencies create “administrative law judges” within their auspices, who answer to the very agencies they purport to “judge.” The federal judiciary too often defers to the agencies and these judges, rather than carefully examining their decisions — further undercutting the constitutional separation of powers. This further accretion of executive power elevates bureaucratic efficiency at the expense of justice.
Those on both sides of the political aisle should recognize we need to correct this. Republicans may have objected to unilateral decisions that President Barack Obama made, and Democrats obviously oppose overreaching executive moves made by President Donald Trump. But all in government must recognize the role they played in allowing this problem to develop and take steps to fix it.
We can start by demanding that our legislators read the laws they write before passing them. We should expect them to take responsibility for writing clear and understandable laws that do not require us to resort to bureaucrats to interpret. When bureaucrats have to interpret the law, the objective rule of law our Founding Fathers envisioned is relegated to the subjective rule of men, which puts us at risk of tyranny.
President Calvin Coolidge once said of Hamilton: “When America ceases to remember his greatness, America will no longer be great.” Thanks to the creativity of Broadway’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, our country will sing and rap of Hamilton’s greatness for many years to come. But in remembering Hamilton, we should also remember the document that he rightly called the sustaining energy for our Republic: the Constitution.
As Americans, we should restore its understanding of the separation of powers in order to ensure it continues to sustain our country for the next 230 years.
Mark Miller is the managing attorney of the Pacific Legal Foundation’s Atlantic Center in Palm Beach Gardens.