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ICYMI: A Debate over Executive Power: Obama’s Immigration Decision

Friday, January 16th, 2015

A debate over executive power  Obama’s immigration decisionIn November, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration. During an event on Monday, January 12, AEI’s Gary J. Schmitt stressed that Obama’s actions ought to be examined in light of their constitutional appropriateness rather than from a strictly legal standpoint. Ross Douthat of The New York Times agreed with this proposed framework because, he said, it is much clearer that the president’s immigration actions are constitutionally inappropriate than that the courts would ever find them to have been illegal.

Douthat continued by noting that there has been a pattern throughout recent presidencies of applying expansive unilateral executive authority to the domestic policy areas of health care and the environment. However, he argued that Obama’s immigration decision represents a distinct situation because of its combination of troubling factors, such as the sheer size of the action and the apparent use of executive power to bully Congress into particular policy directions that it has opposed.

The Brookings Institution’s William A. Galston then explained that while Obama’s immigration actions might be troubling and even unwise, the president acted according to precedents stretching back at least to the Ford administration. Judicial rulings also seem to condone Obama’s action, said Galston, citing the rulings in Heckler v. Chaney and Arizona v. United States that acknowledge executive prosecutorial discretion.

Ultimately, Galston concluded that Congress’s failure to pass immigration legislation and the president’s resulting use of unilateral executive action is not an extraordinary situation; rather, it is the latest in a cycle of institutional struggles born from the separation of powers that have recurred throughout America’s history.

Watch: A Debate over Executive Power: Obama’s Immigration Decision