The Constitution Today: Can Obama do that?

Created over two centuries ago, the United States Constitution remains open to interpretation by lawmakers and scholars as well as by ordinary individuals such as you and me. The recent debate over the constitutionality of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration illustrates this notion. In November of 2014, the President stated that he will use his executive order power to focus efforts to secure U.S. borders while granting three years of deportation relief to unauthorized immigrants who qualify: mainly, undocumented parents of U.S. citizens who have been in the country at least five years.

"US Constitution" by Kim Davies (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“US Constitution” by Kim Davies (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Article II of the U.S. Constitution delineates executive power to the President. The Article also specifies the President as commander-in-chief and requires that the President take care to execute the law to the best of his ability. Of specific interest in the debate over the constitutionality of the President’s immigration order is the executive power of “prosecutorial discretion,” which gives executive officers discretion on when to prosecute crimes. While the President is given executive power, Congress has the constitutional authority to make and pass laws. Are the President’s actions within his constitutional authority? Why or why not?

Academics, constitutional scholars and political pundits have weighed in on the issue; some of their thoughtful discussions are included below. I want to especially point out The New York Times Room for Debate series, which features short discussions on the issue from a variety of perspectives. Their commentary brings up many topics that we will discuss in class this week, including the Constitution, checks and balances and the separation of powers. I welcome your comments below.

Resources and Further Reading

  1. Constitutional Limits of Presidential Action on Immigration (NYT: Room for Debate) 
  2. Lawful or Awful? Scholars comment on Obama’s immigration action
  3. How the immigration and executive order debate tests presidential power
  4. What constitutional options remain for the GOP to block Obama’s executive order?
  5. Republicans Say Obama’s Immigration Action Challenges Constitution, But History Says Otherwise
  6. Obama Has the Law – and Reagan – on His Side on Immigration

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