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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Law Professor Says U.S. At A ‘Constitutional Tipping Point’

George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley testify before the House Judiciary Committee (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

George Washington University Law School Professor Jonathan Turley testify before the House Judiciary Committee (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Constitutional expert Jonathan Turley says a “massive gravitational shift” of power to the presidency has created a “constitutional crisis” for the U.S.

In his testimony at a House Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday, Turley said this shift did not begin with President Obama, but that “it has accelerated at an alarming rate under this administration.” Turley emphasized that he does not view the president as a dictator, but he does think the problem is urgent.

The following is an excerpt of his prepared remarks:

As someone who voted for President Obama and agrees with many of his policies, it is often hard to separate the ends from the means of presidential action. Indeed, despite decades of thinking and writing about the separation of powers, I have had momentary lapses where I privately rejoiced in seeing actions on goals that I share, even though they were done in the circumvention of Congress. For example, when President Obama unilaterally acted on greenhouse gas pollutants, I was initially relieved. I agree entirely with the priority that he has given this issue. However, it takes an act of willful blindness to ignore that the greenhouse regulations were implemented only after Congress rejected such measures and that a new sweeping regulatory scheme is now being promulgated solely upon the authority of the President. We are often so committed to a course of action that we conveniently dismiss the means as a minor issue in light of the goals of the Administration. Many have embraced the notion that all is fair in love and politics. However, as I have said too many times before Congress, in our system it is often more important how we do something than what we do. Priorities and policies (and presidents) change. What cannot change is the system upon which we all depend for our rights and representation.

Turley joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the issue.

Interview Highlights: Jonathan Turley

On President Obama’s role in the power shift

“This certainly did not begin with him. We’ve seen a gradual sort of gravitational shift of power from the legislative to the executive branch. It was prominent during the Bush years, where I was also very critical, but it certainly accelerated under President Obama. And the most serious violations, in my view, are various cases when he went to Congress, as in the immigration field, as in the healthcare field, as for very specific things, and was rejected, and then decided just to order those on his own. He’s also been accused of shifting large amounts of money from their appointed or appropriated purpose to other purposes. These really drive at the heart of the separation of powers.”

On the acceleration of this power shift

“These are really sort of Fellini-esque moments for someone who studies the Constitution. The framers assumed — most famously, James Madison — that ambition would check ambition in our system. But the legislative branch, for the last two presidents, has been virtually inured. It’s gotten to the point where the shift of power is so significant that I think we have to stop and take notice. There’s no question that previous presidents abused their power, but what we’re seeing with the Obama administration is really a systemic circumvention of Congress, and remarkably, he’s doing that with the applause of his own party, members of the legislative branch.”

On how he feels the American people should be reacting

“People need to understand, policies change and even presidents change. But these powers are hard to get back, and I think that people will rue the day when they were silent as we created this über-presidency, this massively powerful presidency, and created this instability within the system. Because what Madison really foresaw was that the three branches were like orbs or planets, that were locked in orbit by their self interest, by their checks and balances. That’s a very unstable orbit now, because of this shift of power. And the problem that we have is this concept of ‘all is fair in love and politics,’ that people can’t see beyond how they feel about immigration, and how they feel about environment, or more importantly, how they feel about President Obama. And that’s very short-sighted. They have to see a farther horizon that’s going to affect our children when we change the system.”

Guest


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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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