Separation of powers: does an executive have the authority to ignore all or part of a law duly enacted?

Paraphrasing the old Chinese curse, we are certainly living in interesting times. After ramming his signature Obamacare law through Congress and signing it into law without a single supporting member of the minority party, President Obama found that the law wasn’t quite written correctly (something several of we who opposed the law told him, repeatedly) and that his Executive Branch was wholly incapable of actually carrying it out in the time frame given (something else we who opposed the law told him, repeatedly.) Obama’s response to that was to do something that nothing whatsoever in the Constitution authorizes him to do: he unilaterally decided he wasn’t going to follow specific parts of the law, deferring for now (we’re told) certain parts of it that were proving to be politically inconvenient to enforce. This isn’t something new for the President. He directed the agencies under his command to stop enforcing immigrations laws against certain illegal aliens and elections laws against groups who had clearly violated them.

The President isn’t the only one either in office or currently seeking to be that feels it’s just fine for an executive elected official to ignore the laws as passed. Democrat candidate for governor in Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and one of his fellows running for the office of Attorney General, Mark Herring, have both expressed not just a willingness but an eagerness to dispense with the implementation and enforcement of laws on the books, even extending to the Virginia Constitution.

The oaths of office taken by the President and by governors require the incoming elected to swear by whatever they allegedly hold sacred that they will faithfully discharge their duties to uphold and defend the laws, particularly the constitution, state or federal. And yet, here are these examples of people doing precisely what they have sworn not to do. Under what circumstances can a president or a governor simply decide to not enforce the law or defend that law when it is challenged? So far as I can see, there is one and only one situation where such an action is justified: should the law as passed be a violation of the executive’s powers as stated in the constitution or if the law will violate some other constitutional provision, then and only then could it be tolerable for that executive to refuse to enforce the law. And he should be prepared to state his case as to what ruling has been issued that makes the law unconstitutional.

If, on the other hand, the law simply violates what the executive, as a matter of personal belief, feels is right/proper/just, and that executive finds themselves in the position of having to enforce, enact, or defend a law that they cannot support in any way, there’s really only 1 acceptable response. That executive should resign. It is an abuse of power to permit one’s personal agenda and political viewpoint to overrule a duly enacted law.

I would take a moment to point out that we are seeing the beginnings of an across-the-board trend by Democrats to simply ignore the legislation passed into law by the people’s representatives when it doesn’t fit their political desires. This has happened at the top level of federal government and it’s starting to be seen in the states. (Witness California’s Prop 8 fiasco and, again, the tone taken by the above-mentioned Mark Herring for proof of that.) The character of a candidate to resist this kind of corruption should be very much forefront in people’s minds.

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