Emergency declaration a threat to liberty
February 15, 2019
In 2016, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and 42 other senators, signed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court opposing President Obama’s unilateral actions on immigration. The brief was in support of a challenge by a majority of the nation’s governors and attorneys general to the Obama Administration’s November 2014 executive actions on immigration.
“Given that the Executive has asserted that the acts challenged here are not even subject to judicial review, what is at stake in this matter is nothing less than an effort to supplant Congress’s constitutional power to ‘establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization.’ Such an action stands in stark contravention to federal law and to the constitutional principle of the separation of powers,” the senators’ amicus brief states. “There is little doubt that the Executive adopted the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (‘DAPA’) program as part of an explicit effort to circumvent the legislative process.”
More recently Graham said, “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier. I hope it works.” So much for defending Congress’s constitutional power and the constitutional principle of the separation of powers. So much for opposing attempts by the Executive to circumvent the legislative process. These concerns no longer seem to animate Graham. Rather than defending the powers of the institution in which he serves, and opposing the President as he did in 2016, Graham is furthering Trump’s efforts to circumvent the legislative process.
In Federalist 51, James Madison argued that for liberty to be preserved, concentrations of power must be frustrated. This is accomplished by separating powers within government and “giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others … Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.”
In the extended republic of the United States, the division of power between states and the federal government as well as a multiplicity of interests, parties, and religious sects further frustrate concentrations of power by the majority, thus securing liberty and the rights of the minority.
This constitutional architecture is established on a sober estimate of the sinful nature of humanity. “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government,” Madison wrote. “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
In response to President Trump declaring a national emergency to build a wall, some claim the situation at our southern border is not an emergency, but that gun violence, climate change, or the opioid crisis is. However appealing, these claims are misplaced. Our challenge is not to redirect the president’s use of emergency powers to something we would prefer he address. It is to contest the use of such powers given the threat they pose to liberty.
Our challenge is not to redirect the president’s use of emergency powers to something we would prefer he address. It is to contest the use of such powers given the threat to they pose to liberty.
That Graham and others in Congress support Trump’s efforts to build a wall at our southern border is not alarming. That they support his efforts to circumvent the legislative process is.
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas is editor of The Christian Citizen, a publication of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.
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