In the past we have explored how President Obama’s penchant for unilateral executive actions has resulted in encroachments on the powers of Congress and the courts. This despite the constitutional blueprint for a federal government limited by a system of checks and balances through the Constitution’s separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
Thus, it will be recalled, Mr. Obama ignored a federal law regarding the mandated deportation of certain illegal aliens; ran roughshod over Congress and the legislative process in securing the passage of Obamacare and then threatened to use the presidential bully pulpit against the Supreme Court if it failed validate it; and ignored congressional rules that effectively limited his power to make recess appointments of federal officials.
Equally troubling has been his habit of injecting himself into the criminal justice system with observations concerning the guilt or innocence of individuals before any formal legal proceedings have taken place.
Most controversial was the president’s comment early on in the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. Mr. Obama used highly personal terms in describing how the shooting of the 17-year old Martin had affected him, saying: “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” He continued, “I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this. All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen….”
This was a homicide investigation in its earliest stages; could the president have been that clueless about the impact his remarks would have on potential jury members tasked with sorting out Mr. Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence?
We should have seen this coming. In July 2009, just six months after taking office, the president told the world that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts had “acted stupidly” in arresting Henry Louis Gates, Jr. – a prominent African-American scholar – at his Cambridge home after reports that Mr. Gates and a friend were observed trying to force open the front door.
Professor Gates was charged with disorderly conduct for the hard time he gave police. The president acknowledged he did not have all the facts but decided to interject himself into the case anyway: “[W]hat I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”
Quite a connection. Anyway, the disorderly conduct charge against Mr. Gates was promptly dismissed.
There’s more: The New York Times reported last week that the president’s recent comments about the problem of sexual abuse in the armed forces have compromised at least a dozen prosecutions and, in the view of military law experts, were certain to complicate almost all sexual assault prosecutions in the military. Mr. Obama had publicly stated that those who commit sexual assaults in the military should be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired dishonorably discharged.” In effect, he was opining on what the penalty should be.
According to the Times, judges and defense lawyers have complained that Mr. Obama’s words as commander-in-chief amounted to “undue command influence,” which refers to actions of commanders that could be interpreted by jurors as an attempt to influence a court martial. A former judge advocate general of the Army told the Times that the president’s “remarks were more specific than I’ve ever heard a commander in chief get.”
Plainly, President Obama has strong views about a lot of things. And he also feels a great need to make a difference. But there are consequences to what a president of the United States says and does. And not everything goes.