In an opinion released today involving the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Executive Branch has no authority to disregard congressional mandates merely on policy grounds.
We can applaud the decision but the question still remains: how does the opinion get enforced if the executive wishes to defy it? How many divisions does the DC Circuit have? What recourse is there against an executive determined to seize more power for himself, is unchecked by the need to be re-elected, and is unafraid of press criticism because the press is in his pocket?
Republicans who don’t want to challenge Obama on his delay in implementing so many parts of Obamacare because they think the delay will weaken Obamacare are ignoring the dangerous precedent this sets about presidential power vis a vis their own power. In other words, if presidents are allowed to ignore duly enacted federal laws as they wish, what’s the point of Congress at all? Checks and balances? What’s that?
Perhaps the only remedy left is impeachment. But impeachment is one of the most political legal processes in the world. The court is Congress itself—first the House to impeach, and then the Senate to convict. And even if this particular House could manage to muster the votes to impeach Obama, this particular Senate never would no matter how egregious his overreach.
Of course Obama is well aware of that. He is nothing if not a political animal.
The entire situation brings home the fact that our entire government, with its delicately and brilliantly-engineered system of checks and balances, is in the end a gentlemen’s/women’s agreement. It runs on respect for the rules and the fact that if you violate them the whole structure could come tumbling down to everyone’s detriment. But Obama doesn’t play by those rules, and he doesn’t have to.
The key in all of this has been the press’s abdication of its duty to be a critic of the powerful. We can ridicule the press all we want, but it is one of the most important linchpins of our republic, and if it fails to function to keep those in power under check then tyranny can more readily flourish because of a compliant and soothed public. Still another key, of course, is the acquiescence of Republicans, which cannot be blamed on Obama or the press but on their own cowardice and lack of principle.