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Courts Prevent Obama’s Unilateral Action

June 1, 2015
Weekly Columns

As President Obama’s time left in office draws to a close, it’s clear that he’s grasping at any and all opportunities to leave a legacy. He has either refused to work with or negotiate with lawmakers in the present Congress or failed to encourage a previously split-party Congress to find compromise. With his loss of a Democrat-led Senate, the president has now shown that when met with opposition to his policies, his arrogant answer will be to bypass Congress and act alone. That temper tantrum-like behavior, “my way or the highway” attitude and disrespect for the role of the legislative branch has been noticeably present in his intended action and perspective on immigration policy.

Last November, the president announced that he would grant legal status to approximately five million illegal immigrants. This unilateral executive action included the planned expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—a program established by the Administration in 2012— as well as the creation and implementation of a new program called the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. Both programs from the Administration aim to prevent the deportation of certain illegal residents, grant legal status to those individuals and allow them to acquire and be eligible for work permits.

Predictably, there was a loud outcry against the president’s plan to unilaterally change immigration policy without any input whatsoever from Congress. It came not only from the American people, but also from lawmakers who reminded the president that changes to immigration law must start in the legislative branch. Shortly thereafter, then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott led a 26-state coalition, including Oklahoma, to challenge the constitutionality of the president’s action through a federal District Court lawsuit.  

In February of this year, a federal judge in Texas agreed with the 26 states and ordered a halt to the president’s executive order. This meant that the Administration could not move forward with any implementation of the plan. Judge Andrew Hanen ruled that the Administration had not given sufficient notice or followed proper procedure in implementing new immigration policies and programs. 

Not surprisingly, the Department of Justice appealed and requested relief from all or some of the ruling that was now preventing implementation. Last week, that request was denied by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The panel reasoned and ruled that “Because the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal of the injunction, we deny the motion for stay and the request to narrow the scope of the injunction.” As a result of the announcement that upheld the injunction, the Administration was again unable to move forward.

Even with the recent victory that forestalls the president’s unpopular and unilateral moves from taking place, it’s important to remember that the case still awaits resolution in the courts. But the good news is that the continued existence of the lawsuit prevents the president from going ahead as he planned. 

Throughout his administration, this president has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to ignore the law and the Constitution when he has been unable to enact unpopular policies through the normal—and appropriate—channels. Fortunately the judicial branch is finally beginning to restore the proper balance between the legislative and executive branches of government and put the brakes on his overreach. In doing so, the courts are defending the Constitution and checking an administration with an overly expansive view of the power of the presidency in a democratic republic.