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The president and checks and balances

President Barack Obama’s supporters have cheered the boldness with which he’s cut through the Gordian knot of congressional gridlock, instituting changes in the law that meet with their approval through executive fiat.

But to fully grasp the danger of a president thus bypassing our constitutional system of checks and balances, those who are happy with the current results need only ask themselves how pleased they would be if some future executive were to similarly bypass Congress, using a mere stroke of the pen to close down, say, the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is not to say Mr. Obama initiated the trend. Most historians struggle to find a constitutional justification for Thomas Jefferson purchasing Louisiana from the French without prior congressional approval – even as they concede he got quite a deal.

Still, Mr. Obama’s politically opportunistic violations of the separation of powers in recent weeks have been breathtaking. Take the so-called “Dream Act,” which aims to provide legal residency status and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents when they were minors. Both voters and members of Congress can have their separate positions on this proposal. But the fact is that Congress has debated it and decided not to enact it as law.

So President Obama recently signed an executive order, telling his subordinates to start registering such persons for the issuance of work permits, which he represents as granting them a legal right to work in this country.

President Obama has used similar end runs around the legislative branch when it comes to laws involving education and welfare.

“If laws passed by the elected representatives of the people can be simply over-ruled unilaterally by whoever is in the White House, then we are no longer a free people, choosing what laws we want to live under,” warns Thomas Sowell of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “When a president can ignore the plain language of duly passed laws, and substitute his own executive orders, then we no longer have ‘a government of laws, and not of men’ but a president ruling by decree, like the dictator in some banana republic.”

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