When Article II of the Constitution was originally penned creating the Executive Branch, the authors made many valiant attempts to circumvent overreach within any one branch of the government. On the other hand, they also recognized the need to have a way to resolve conflict between the Legislative and Executive Branches. That mechanism was the power of the President to force Congress into session or force Congress out of session. Congress also conferred on the President, Emergency Powers in 1979, because of threats to the country while the Congress was not in session. None of them foresaw the “Pandora’s Box” opened that could one day be exploited by future presidents.
28 “emergencies” still exist from several Presidents: Carter, 1; Reagan, 0; HW Bush, 0; Clinton, 6; W Bush, 10; Obama, 11; Trump, 0 (not including the wall)*.
The always optimistic Abraham Lincoln once said, “Our safety, our liberty, depends upon preserving the Constitution of the United States as our fathers made it inviolate.” However, Thomas Jefferson counters the invincibility of the sacred document in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, where he issued the following warning: “The tyranny of the legislature is really the danger most to be feared, and will continue to be so for many years to come. The tyranny of the executive power will come in its turn, but at a more distant period.” He recognized there was strength in numbers and it would likely take some time for a man to be brash enough to believe oneself above the Constitution.
The most unfortunate part of President Trump’s recent declaration of an emergency isn’t just found in his choice to redirect $6B dollars to fund the wall project. The difference in this declaration resides in the purpose of the measure. Nearly none of the “emergencies” declared by President’s are actual emergencies to the US. We have used emergencies to block financial transactions with other countries or declared diseases or situations in other countries emergencies – African is our favorite continent to do that. As of now we have never applied this to a border. The question here is if the border actually represents an emergency to the US – much like the declaration of a disease in a foreign land being called into question as an “emergency” in the US. We should ask if the emergency really is in the inability to get Congress to understand what a border is, how it is defined, and the economic (or other) reasons foreign nationals wish to breach it.
And, this applies “emergency” powers to another area that further expands the definition of an emergency. Again opening Pandora’s box further and increasing the imperialism of the Presidency.
As history shows, America is pretty famous for politically swinging from one extreme to another. If this typically measure expand the definition of emergency, what other parts of the Constitution are subject to the whim of one person? Maybe a President who follows might decide firearms are too much of a danger to the American people? Maybe freedom of speech no longer extends to Christians because they are seen as too much of a threat to other commonly discriminated factions? The point is, once Pandora’s Box is opened, history teaches us that it doesn’t close and only grows the power of one.