Sorry, the president is not a policymaker

Here is the clip of my Constitution Revolution segment from The Chris Salcedo Show this weekend.  (If you want to hear the rest of the show, you can listen to it on The Blaze Radio.)

The point of this clip is very straight forward.  President Obama keeps talking about what he can do to implement his agenda without Congressional approval – but the Constitution doesn’t give him any authority at all to do that.  As Charles Pinckney of South Carolina explains in this quote, the president is almost entirely dependent on Congress:

“He is commander-in-chief of the land and naval forces of the Union, but he can neither raise nor support forces by his own authority.  He has a revisionary power in the making of laws; but if two thirds of both houses afterwards agree notwithstanding his negative, the law passes.  He cannot appoint to an office without the Senate concurs; nor can he enter into treaties, or, in short, take a single step in his government, without their advice.  He is, also, to remain in office but four years.  He might ask, then, From whence are the dangers of the executive to proceed?  It may be said, From a combination of the executive and the Senate, they might form a baneful aristocracy.”

The bottom line here is that the president is the head of the executive branch of government – he has the power to execute the laws passed by Congress.  But he has absolutely no power to create policy in any way.  The president is must wait for Congress to pass the laws that he will be executing.

And no – just because Congress won’t send him the laws he wants isn’t a sufficient reason for ignoring the Constitution.

Can President Obama use Executive Orders to enact his agenda?

When explaining how he plans to implement his agenda, President Obama said that he has a pen and he can use it to sign Executive Orders.  But can he?

My Constitution Revolution segment on this week’s Chris Salcedo Show explains exactly what an Executive Order is an how it can be used.  Here is the clip:

To get more of my Constitution Revolution segments, you can hear them every Saturday morning on The Blaze Radio.


The Supreme Court actually spent time debating this…

My Constitution Revolution this week on The Chris Salcedo Show focused on President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.  Here’s the clip:

There you have it.  The clip makes it beyond clear – these recess appointments were unconstitutional.  But why does it matter when the vacancies happen?

The answer to that goes back to why the Founders put this clause in the Constitution to begin with – and it wasn’t so the president could do something if the meanies over in the Senate wouldn’t confirm a nominee that he really, really wanted super bad.

Here’s the deal.  Back when the Constitution was written, travel and communication took a long time.  When Senators left Washington D.C. it could be weeks before they were able to return.  In that case, imagine if someone important in the federal government died while the Senate was in recess.  That could make it extremely difficult for the government to function.

The Founders decided that it made sense to plan ahead for a situation like that.  The idea behind the Recess Appointment Clause is, in the event of some type of emergency where a vacancy happens in the executive branch, the president can go ahead and put someone in that office so that the government can continue to function.  Then, when the Senators came back from their recess they could handle filling the vacancy through the normal process.

President Obama wasn’t facing a situation anything like that – there was no threat of a crisis in government if he didn’t get these appointments to the NLRB.  His intent here was solely to circumvent the Constitution because it was putting limits on his power.

If we value our freedom at all, this has to stop.  The kind of bald power grab that President Obama has attempted here exactly is what the Constitution was written to prevent.

A note on religious liberty

In the spirit of Christmas, this week on The Chris Salcedo Show I discussed the Constitution’s protection of the Freedom of Religion.  Here’s the clip (which also aired on The Glenn Beck Show on Tuesday):

The concept here is extremely simple.  The Constitution was designed to limit the power of government, not to limit the liberty of the American people.  Knowing that that was the intention of the Founders is important to keep in mind when interpreting the 1st Amendment.  It tells us that the purpose of the 1st Amendment was not intended to limit the religious liberty of the people of this country in any way.

When you read the 1st Amendment as a normal person and not a lawyer, it isn’t terribly complicated:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

It doesn’t get a whole lot clearer than that.  It states only what Congress can’t do – it says nothing at all about what the people can’t do.  This shouldn’t be confusing at all – but somehow the judges and lawyers in this country have found a way to do it.

Beyond the simple language the Founders put in the First Amendment, they even went a step further in the preamble to the Bill of Rights and told us exactly what they were trying to do!

“THE Conventions of a number of the States having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.”

In other words, they are telling us that the reason that the Bill of Rights was passed was to further restrict the power of government.  Because of that, we must read the 1st Amendment as a limit on government – and not a limit on the religious liberty of the people in any way whatsoever.

So any court ruling that tells us that its unconstitutional for a high school student to talk about God during their graduation speech or for kids to pass out candy canes at school is complete and total nonsense.

You might be wondering how we got here.  Well, most of today’s judges will tell you that the 14th Amendment requires the Bill of Rights to be applied to state and local governments.  This application of the 14th Amendment is where most cases about religious liberty come from.

However, this interpretation of the 14th Amendment is simply incorrect.  The people who ratified the 14th Amendment didn’t discuss the idea of applying the 1st Amendment to the states and they certainly didn’t debate the possibility of limiting the religious liberty of the American people.  The authors of the 14th Amendment had absolutely no intention of applying the Bill of Rights to the states.  That is simply something that federal judges read into that amendment at a much later date as way of giving themselves – and the federal government – much more power.

That method of interpreting the Constitution is illegitimate because it allows our politicians to take power for themselves that the people never intended to give them.  As Founder James Wilson taught us:

“The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it.”

Why do politicians need control?

Here is the very thought-provoking Constitution Revolution segment from last weekend (which you can hear during The Chris Salcedo Show on The Blaze Radio every Saturday morning):

This is the John Locke quote I mentioned in the clip:

“For nobody can desire to have me in his absolute power, unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom, i.e., make me a slave.”

This quote has always fascinated me because it brings up a brilliant question – why would someone need control over you if they weren’t planning to do something to you against your will?

To illustrate that, let’s look at the Post Office.  The federal government offers a mail delivery service that it is entirely in charge of operating.  As a citizen, you are free to choose if you want to use that service or not.

So even though the federal government is involved in mail delivery, it does not have control over the package delivery industry.  FedEx and UPS offer very competitive services for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with the Post Office.

On the other hand, when our politicians made the poor decision to get the federal government involved in the health insurance industry they didn’t just design a program to offer health insurance to lower income citizens.  Instead they chose to take control over the health insurance industry as a whole.

Now you no longer have the freedom to decide if you want to purchase health insurance or not.  And insurance companies are no longer allowed to decide what types of coverage will best serve their customers and their business – the government has dictated what types of insurance they are required to offer.

It would have been much easier for Congress to create some sort of program that offered a subsidy to people with low incomes who couldn’t afford to purchase health insurance.  But they didn’t.  So we should all be asking ourselves the question:

Why would the politicians work as desperately as they did to pass Obamacare – and take control over the health insurance industry – if they didn’t plan to force you do to something you don’t want to do?

The brilliance behind separation of powers…

Here is my Constitution Revolution segment from this weekend:

The basic idea here is that the Founders didn’t give us three branches of government just because it sounded like a good number.  They gave us three branches because there are three jobs a government has to be able to do and they wanted to keep those jobs separated.

By putting each of the jobs of government into distinct branches, they were making sure that the people in each of those branches would have to cooperate before the government could function.  That means that if one branch got corrupted and wanted to take the country in a wild, tyrannical direction the other two branches would be there to stop that from happening.  Essentially, all three branches would have to become corrupted for our country to truly head in an oppressive direction.

But, as I said in the clip, today we allow the executive branch to perform all three jobs of government.  How is that possible?  Think executive agencies like the EPA, HHS, or the IRS.  A lot of these agencies are given the power to use all three functions of government on their own.

Take the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) for example:

Who rights OSHA regulations?  OSHA

Who enforces OSHA regulations?  OSHA (you’ve probably heard of OSHA inspectors)

If you are accused of violating an OSHA regulation, where will your case be sent?  Most likely to some administrative court run by the people at OSHA

In other words, the people inside of OSHA can write a rule, decide that you’ve violated their little rule, and find you guilty of violating that rule all by themselves.  Does that sound like a good idea?  It shouldn’t.  After all, there’s a reason the phrase “judge, jury, and executioner” has a negative connotation.

Hey politicians: Live under the laws you pass!!

This weekend during the Constitution Revolution segment on The Chris Salcedo Show (which you can hear on The Blaze Radio!), we discussed the single greatest protection your freedom can have.  Here’s the clip:

Believe it or not, when the Constitution was ratified there was an expectation that politicians would live under the laws that they passed.  Think about what an amazing protection that is.  It means that unless a politician is willing to take away his own freedom, he can’t take away yours.  But even more than that, unless a politician is willing to impose massive taxes on himself, he can’t impose massive taxes on you.  Basically, he has to treat you just as well as he would treat himself.

It all goes back to the idea that the Constitution is designed to deal with human nature.  This concept is based on self-interest – people will usually take better care of themselves than they will other people.  So we use that to our advantage by requiring politicians to treat citizens the same way they treat themselves.  It’s simple… yet brilliant!

You say, “Ok Chad, this all sounds great.  But is it really in the Constitution?”  You bet – I wish the Founders had laid it out more specifically but it is in there.  You don’t have to believe me, take James Madison’s word for it:

“I will add as a fifth circumstance in the situation of the House of Representatives, restraining them from oppressive measures, that they can make no law which will not have its full operation on themselves and their friends, as well as on the great mass of society.  This has always been deemed one of the strongest bonds by which human policy can connect the rulers and the people together.”

Federalist #57

We know that Congress is limited to only dealing with issues that affect every American citizen (international trade and diplomacy, immigration, national defense, and ensuring that products can move easily from state to state).  Beyond that there is nothing in the Constitution granting Congress the power to exempt anyone from the laws that they pass – let alone a power to exempt themselves.

So if we actually enforced the Constitution, our politicians would have no choice but to live under the laws that they pass.  In the Federalist #57, James Madison warned us of exactly what would happen if we ever abandoned this concept:

“If this spirit shall ever be so debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the Legislature as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate anything but liberty.”

And here we are in 2013 with politicians who live under a special set of laws and citizens who are willing to tolerate anything from their government… except liberty.

Why I’m thankful…

Here is the clip of my segment on The Chris Salcedo show this weekend.  It really speaks for itself:

The Danger of Unchecked Power

On last week’s Chris Salcedo Show (which you can hear on The Blaze Radio), we discussed the fact that we have to be very cautious about any power we allow our government to use – no matter how small.  We were given a perfect reminder of why last week when we learned the Obama Administration may have altered the unemployment numbers last year to help him get re-elected.

Here’s the clip:

It’s critical to understand that this is not a Barack Obama problem – this is a human being problem.  It’s human nature for people to be tempted to abuse whatever power that they have.  That doesn’t mean that everyone will abuse their  power; but it’s human nature for that to be very tempting.  And the more power a person has, the greater the temptation.  At some point, even people of very strong character will give in and abuse their power.

Here’s just one example of how that could happen.  When a person feels like they are in great danger it’s human nature for us to grasp at anything we possibly can to try to protect ourselves.  Sometimes we might even fudge a few rules just to save ourselves.

That’s not exactly what happened with the unemployment statistics because President Obama has never been shy about abusing his power.  But clearly the people in the Obama administration were a little nervous about his re-election (ie. they felt that their power was being threatened) so they needed to do whatever they could to protect themselves.  So… they decided to fudge the unemployment numbers a little bit.  Surely this isn’t the only trick like this the White House played to help the president get re-elected.

None of that should come as a surprise to us.  This is what happens when you give human beings unchecked power.  John Trenchard warned us about this in Cato’s Letters #60:

“The experience of every Age convinces us, that we must not judge of Men by what they ought to do, but by what they will do; and all History affords but few Instances of Men trusted with great power without abusing it, when with Security they could.

So how do we keep our politicians from abusing their power?  We always need to keep two simple ideas in mind.  First, we want to make sure we are only giving them powers that are necessary to do their job.  Less power means less temptation to abuse it.  Second, we need to make sure then every power we give our politicians is checked by some outside force.  That means we want someone else looking over their shoulder who can hold them accountable if they get out of line.

We have no choice but to put these kinds restraints on the power we grant to our government because power is a corrupting force – even for people of good character.  That’s why Thomas Jefferson gave us this warning:

“In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

What is the scope of the federal government’s power?

If you are new to studying the Constitution, then this morning’s segment on The Chris Salcedo Show was probably pretty eye opening for you. Here’s the clip:

Despite the fact that we have bureaucrats in D.C. who think they are qualified to make your healthcare decisions for you, the Founders only granted the federal government authority over a few well defined issues. Since then, we have not amended the Constitution in a way that changes that fact in any significant way.

I know that’s hard to believe considering how gigantic the federal government has become, but it’s true. The federal government only has Constitutional authority to handle issues that occur outside of a state’s borders.

Here’s the way James Madison explained it in Federalist #45:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which the last power of taxation will for the most part be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people; and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

Roger Sherman made basically the same point during the ratification debates in Connecticut:

“The objects of the Union… were few – first, defence against foreign danger; second, against internal disputes and a resort to force; thirdly, treaties with foreign nations; fourthly, regulating foreign commerce, and drawing revenue from it… All other matters, civil and criminal, would be much better in the hands of the states.”

So there you have it – the federal government was only intended to have authority over issues that are outside of a state’s borders. Specifically, that means foreign diplomacy and trade, immigration, national defense, and ensuring that products and services can move freely from one state to another.

Notice that of all these areas, ensuring products and services can move from one state to another is the only one that is completely domestic in nature. That tells us the vast majority of federal actions should be focused on issues that are outside of our country’s borders. But think about all of the domestic issues our federal government is involved in today. That alone should help you realize just how far we have strayed from the Constitution.

This is significant because the Founders granted the federal government the powers they did for a reason. A federal government like ours can be very effective in handling the general concerns of a nation (like the four listed above). However, this type of government is terrible at dealing with issues that concern the daily lives of citizens. When it comes to those types of domestic issues, local governments are always more effective and more efficient than distant central governments. Bureaucrats in a centralized government are just too far removed from the lives of normal citizens to make informed decisions on issues that affect each area of the country differently.

For example, do you think that the people in Washington D.C. who run the Department of Health and Human Services have any idea what it’s like to live in rural North Dakota? I highly doubt it. So it’s ridiculous to expect that they can make effective decisions for how those people in North Dakota should live their lives.

Having an all-powerful central government trying to micromanage the affairs of a huge nation like ours simply doesn’t work. No matter how hard we try, if we continue to shift more and more power to the federal government our nation is going to continue to fall apart.