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House Judiciary Committee Examines Executive Branch Power

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday held a hearing titled, “The President’s Constitutional Duty to Faithfully Execute the Laws.” At the center of attention was debate over the concern that the Executive Branch has grown in power beyond constitutional bounds. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) made his thoughts plain:

Our system of government is a tripartite one, with each branch having certain defined functions delegated to it by the Constitution. The President is charged with executing the laws; the Congress with writing the laws; and the Judiciary with interpreting them. The Obama Administration, however, has ignored the Constitution’s carefully balanced separation of powers and unilaterally granted itself the extra-constitutional authority to amend the laws and to waive or suspend their enforcement.

Chairman Goodlatte added, “In place of the checks and balances established by the Constitution…. President Obama circumvents Congress when he doesn’t get his way.”

The top Democrat on the Committee, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), did not think the President was overstepping and noted, “Unfortunately, it appears that some here view policy disagreements as constitutional crises and proof of possible wrongdoing.”

One of the witnesses at the hearing, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, believed that the President “has crossed the constitutional line between discretionary enforcement and defiance of federal law.” He further warned:

This is more than a turf fight between politicians. The division of governmental powers is
designed to protect liberty by preventing the abusive concentration of power. All citizens –
Democratic or Republican or Independent – should consider the inherent danger presented by a
President who can unilaterally suspend laws as a matter of presidential license… The current  claims of executive power will outlast this president and members must consider the implications
of the precedent that they are now creating through inaction and silence.

Professor Turley also highlighted the rise of a “Fourth Branch” of government – regulatory bureaucracies. He stated, “Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of the sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.”

• Watch this full hearing and read witness testimony here.
• Find additional press coverage here and here.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: December 6, 2013

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