People have been passing around this column by Charles Krauthammer criticizing President Obama’s recent campaign of enforcement discretion (with respect the Affordable Care Act and otherwise), calling it “a gross violation of his Article II duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to call attention to an important new article on this subject — Enforcement Discretion and Executive Duty, by UC-Hastings’s Zachary Price. for those interested in a much deeper dive into the text, history and tradition relevant to enforcement discretion, I highly recommend it.
Here’s the abstract (excerpts from the discussion of the ACA are below the fold):
Recent Presidents have claimed wide-ranging authority to decline enforcement of federal laws. The Obama Administration, for example, has announced policies of declining to charge certain drug offenses, abstaining from investigation and prosecution of certain marijuana crimes, postponing enforcement of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and suspending enforcement of deportation laws against certain undocumented immigrants. While these examples highlight how exercises of executive enforcement discretion — the authority to turn a blind eye to particular legal violations — may effectively reshape federal policy, prior scholarship has offered no satisfactory account of the proper scope of, and constitutional basis for, this putative executive authority. This article fills that gap.
Through close examination of the text, history, and normative underpinnings of the Constitution, as well as relevant historical practice, the article demonstrates that there is indeed a constitutional authority of enforcement discretion — but it is both limited and defeasible. Presidents may properly decline enforcement of civil and criminal prohibitions in particular cases, notwithstanding their obligation under the Take Care Clause to ensure that “the Laws be faithfully executed.” But this authority does not extend to prospective licensing of prohibited conduct,