President Obama assigned Vice President Joe Biden to lead a task force to determine what could be done about the mass shootings our country has experienced in recent years. Biden implied that the president is exploring using an executive order to address gun violence and gun control.
Article II of the Constitution, which addresses the powers and duties of the President, makes no mention of executive orders at all. The Second Amendment of the Constitution establishes the absolute right of Americans to keep and bear arms, and declares that this right shall not be infringed upon by the federal government. There has been talk of requiring registration of firearms and requiring some type of identification to purchase ammunition. History has shown that mandatory gun registration could lead to gun confiscation. In addition, if ammunition purchases are monitored, records could be used to ascertain what kinds of firearms a citizen possesses and how much ammunition they might be using. Also, limitations could be placed on how much ammunition could be permitted to be purchased within a certain time frame. I would hope that President Obama would not be so bold as to issue an executive order intended to deny or diminish any of our constitutional rights. All of our elected officials have taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. We must hold them to this oath.
Some of the most egregious acts in the history of the United States have been committed by Presidents in the form of proclamations or executive orders. Since the beginning of the republic presidents have issued executive orders under a vague interpretation of executive powers outlined in Article II, Section1, Clause 1 of the Constitution and the duties of the President to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” as stated in Article II, Section 3, Clause 5. The Library of Congress reveals the first “Proclamation” was issued by President George Washington, when on October 3, 1789 he declared that Thursday, the 26th day of November, 1789, be a national day of Thanksgiving. This proclamation states:
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
It should be pointed out that this proclamation was issued at the request of both Houses of Congress.
Since that first proclamation, presidents have used their perceived power of issuing executive orders not just to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” The following instances of presidential executive orders will serve to show the extent to which presidents have used them to bypass Congress or to amass power into the executive branch.
- During the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln issued orders that deprived many Americans of their constitutional rights, having some arrested and imprisoned by the military and held without due process due to their opposition to the actions of the federal government.
- After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, in December of 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 9066, which ordered one hundred thousand Japanese residents to be rounded up and put in concentration camps.
- In 1952 President Truman issued an executive order intended to seize and operate the nations steel mills in an effort to avert a strike by the United Steelworkers of America. In the case of Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v Sawyer, after reviewing the facts of the case the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 in favor of Youngstown, affirming that the president does not have the power to issue such an executive order. According to Oyez.org, “The Court argued that “the President’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.”
- In 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, President George H. W. Bush did not join other member nations and sign the treaty. When President William J. Clinton became President he issued Executive Order 12852 on June 29, 1993, creating the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. This council set us on a course of implementing the policies arising out of the 1992 Earth Summit, bypassing congressional ratification of the treaty.
- On April 13, 1999, President William Jefferson Clinton issued Executive Order No. 13119, designating the “Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia/Montenegro), Albania, the Airspace Above, and Adjacent Waters as a Combat Zone.” Clinton declared war without benefit of Congressional approval as required in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.
- Since Barack Obama became president, he has issued several executive orders which seek to limit the constitutional rights of citizens. One example is Executive Order No. 13547, entitled Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts and the Great Lakes, which created the National Ocean Council. Section 2 (iii) states the president’s intent to pursue the United States’ accession to the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (LOST). In an article dated July 31, 2010 in WND.com, Dr. Henry Lamb says, “This treaty would give the U.N. power to regulate activity within our territorial seas (Article 2, (3)); it would give the U.N. the power to levy taxes in the form of application fees ($250,000) and royalties; it provides no benefits that the United States does not already enjoy. Yet, the Obama administration has set up this new National Ocean Council to convince the Senate to ratify the treaty.” The Senate did not ratify this convention after President George W. Bush signed it.
President Obama has issued many executive orders similar to the one aforementioned, which are restricting the freedoms of individuals to enjoy their rights as provided for in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
- President Obama’s Executive Order Number 13603 dated March 16, 2012 entitled National Defense Resources Preparedness specifies in times of perceived national threat or national emergency which department within the executive branch would seize control of specific national resources and services. In this Executive Order, Part II, Priorities and Allocations, Section 201 (a) assigns which department is responsible for what national resource: (1) the Secretary of Agriculture with respect to food resources, food resource facilities, livestock resources, veterinary resources, plant health resources, and the domestic distribution of farm equipment and commercial fertilizer; (2) the Secretary of Energy with respect to all forms of energy; (3) the Secretary of Health and Human Services with respect to health resources; (4) the Secretary of Transportation with respect to all forms of civil transportation; (5) the Secretary of Defense with respect to water resources; and (6) the Secretary of Commerce with respect to all other materials, services, and facilities, including construction materials.
If the President acted on this Executive Order, this could result in massive seizures of personal property from the citizens of the United States, violating their constitutional rights. The abuse of executive orders by presidents which suspend the constitutional rights of American citizens must be addressed by a constitutional amendment.
- Perhaps the most disturbing example of a president asserting executive powers beyond the scope of the Constitution was in the April 2010 drone attack and killing of an American citizen in Yemen. Anwar al-Awlaki was an al-Qaida operative targeted for death by the Obama Administration. There have been several FOIA requests for the secret Justice Department memo legally justifying the attack. According to an article in the Huffington Post by Nina Pickler, Hina Shamsi with the American Civil Liberties Union has stated, “Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.”
Since Congress does not appear to be willing to override presidential executive orders, We the People should demand a constitutional amendment restricting the powers of presidential executive orders.
The proposed amendment to the Constitution could read as follows:
Section 1. The use of Executive Orders by the President shall in no way deprive any Person of their Rights, nor shall Executive Orders be used to make laws or to vest departments within the Executive Branch with the power to make laws, since all powers of Legislation have been vested solely within the Congress of the United States.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate Legislation.