Is the President Above the Law?

On Monday, February 11th, our event for the day was a City Club of Cleveland ConstitutionALE forum at the Great Lakes Brewing Company titled “Is the President Above the Law? Executive Power and its Limits.” The format was a panel discussion in which Mr. Dan Mouthrop, City Club President and CEO, queried Professor Raymond Ku, Director for Cyberspace Law and Policy at CWRU; Professor David L. Stack, Associate Lecturer, Department of Political Science at Cleveland State University; and Professor Joseph White, Luxenberg Professor of Public Policy, Department of Political Science at CWRU.

Accordingly, the discussion centered on the interpretation of authoritative powers given to the President under Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which is highly controversial since we can only speculate on the intentions of our nation’s founders and how they might apply to modern times.

Overall, it seems like U.S. Presidents of both parties have risked overstepping their boundaries at times; whether or not they are called out about it depends on the boldness of the courts as well as the composition of the legislative branch and whatever the current political climate might be, especially in terms of the upcoming elections legislators are facing.

Of course, immigration was certainly mentioned; the panelists noted that President Trump may be crossing the line in terms of his policies regarding asylum but, on the other hand, President Obama may have done the same thing regarding DACA. Certainly, the matter of President Trump possibly declaring a national emergency if he is denied funding for a border wall was also discussed. Not surprisingly, it was agreed that, should the President choose this route, he will certainly be challenged in court by the U.S. Congress. Interestingly, though, the precedent cited for this move was when President Obama moved forward with cost sharing subsidies under the ACA after Congress refused to issue the funding; as we know, this one went to the courts too!

Despite the complexity of the topics, the mood of the forum was one of amused investigation instead of a fierce debate. As Mr. Moulthrop said at the start of the forum, these ConstitutionALE gatherings have proven to be “a bit of a lark” and that “we’re having a good time exploring constitutional issues.”

We also got to talk for a moment with Professor Ku who told us that he was responsible for encouraging Ms. Margaret W. Wong to teach classes at CWRU Law School and, in retrospect, he was glad that he did because, Ms. Wong’s own personalized style was most refreshing and she was very popular with the students as well as being an excellent instructor.