The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will consider a legal challenge to President Obama’s executive actions that aim to grant legal status and work permits to millions of illegal immigrants. Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the senior Republican in the U.S. Senate and a longtime member and former Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, lauded the decision and urged the Court to strike down the President’s unconstitutional policy.
“President Obama’s executive action is an affront to our system of republican self-government,” Hatch said. “The Constitution vests legislative authority in Congress, not the President. With his actions, President Obama has attempted to bypass the constitutionally ordained legislative process and rewrite the law unilaterally. I applaud the Court for its willingness to consider this case and hope the Justices will hold the Obama administration accountable to the law and to the Constitution.”
Hatch, a leading opponent of President Obama’s executive overreach, has spoken out repeatedly against the immigration actions in question. In a speech on the Senate floor last year, he laid out a detailed legal case against the President’s actions, the text of which can be found below:
Madam President, our nation’s Founders knew, in the sage words of Montesquieu, that “in all tyrannical governments . . . the right both of making and of enforcing the laws is vested in one and the same man, . . . and wherever these two powers are united together, there can be no public liberty.” For this reason, when drafting the Constitution, the Framers divided power—between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and between the federal government and the states.
Despite these constitutional foundations, President Obama has decided that he “won’t take no for an answer” when Congress refuses to go along with his agenda. In direct opposition to our centuries-old system of legislation and to the binding authority of the Constitution, the President has audaciously declared that “when Congress won’t act, I will.”
And he has followed up these threats with a variety of unilateral executive actions, many of which are flatly inconsistent with the law and the Constitution.
Over the past weeks and months, I have come to the Senate floor to speak out about a series of specific instances that exemplify the brazen lawlessness of this administration. This pervasive and illegitimate overreach has come in many different forms.
With his recent move on immigration, President Obama seeks not only to prevent enforcement proceedings against millions of people unlawfully present in this country, but also to license their unlawful presence with affirmative work permits. In doing so, he not only ignores the duly enacted laws of the land, but also seeks to unilaterally replace them with his own contradicting policies.
The President and his allies in this chamber want nothing more than to turn this into a debate about immigration policy. But that is not what this debate is about. Immigration is a complex and divisive issue, and Americans hold a wide variety of views on the matter that don’t always divide neatly on partisan lines. Many conservatives—myself included—share some of the same policy goals as President Obama.
Instead, this is a debate about loyalty. As senators, where do our loyalties lie? Do we owe our loyalties first to the Constitution, to the protection of the American people, and to the goal of lawful and lasting immigration reform? Or do we owe our loyalty out of reflexive partisanship to a President bent on dangerous unilateralism?
Madam President, President Obama’s executive action is a direct affront to our system of republican self-government. The Constitution vests legislative authority with Congress, not the President alone. Instead, the President is charged with the duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. This is not a suggestion or an invitation for the President to enforce the law—it is an obligation for him to do so.
The President and his executive branch exercise prosecutorial discretion—the discretion to choose not to prosecute certain cases. But that power stems from considerations of fairness and equity in particular cases. Instead of requiring individualized determinations in specific cases, the President’s latest action sweeps up millions of people based on only a few broad, widely shared criteria.
An administration of course cannot prosecute when there are not sufficient resources to do so. But the Obama administration has never explained how these executive actions would save money. In fact, the administration’s own policy advisors have acknowledged that a work permitting program will be expensive and will actually take away resources from law enforcement.
And while no one disagrees that capturing and removing violent criminals should be our highest immigration priority, President Obama has gone much further and made current immigration law essentially dead letter for millions of illegal immigrants.
Despite the administration’s claim to the contrary, President Obama’s action is not comparable to the executive actions taken by President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush. Even the Washington Post’s editorial board found that claim by the White House to be “indefensible.” Presidents Reagan and Bush simply implemented the enforcement priorities established in laws that Congress actually passed.
By contrast, President Obama has sought to change the law before Congress has acted, so he cannot rely on Congress’s authority to enforce the policy he prefers. Indeed, President Obama has acted directly in the face of congressional opposition, and we should call his Executive Order what it is: an attempt to bypass the constitutionally ordained legislative process and rewrite the law unilaterally.
Perhaps the most persuasive case against this disturbing unilateralism was laid out by President Obama himself. On at least 22 different occasions since he took office, the President acknowledged that he lacked the legal authority to carry out these actions. As he himself said, by broadening immigration enforcement carve-outs, “then essentially I would be ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally. So that’s not an option. . . . . What I’ve said is there is a path to get this done, and that’s through Congress.”