But no modern president has picked and chosen which laws to enforce and which to ignore and which to rewrite to the extremes of President Obama. His radical rejection of the rule of law, which presents a clear and present danger to the freedom of us all, has had fatal consequences.
Fidelity to the rule of law is the centerpiece of a free society. It means that no one is beneath the protection of the law and no one is absolved of the obligation to comply with it. The government may not make a person or a class of persons exempt from constitutional protections, as it did during slavery, nor may it make government officials exempt from complying with the law, as it does today.
Everyone who works for the government in the United States takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws written pursuant to it.
In our system of government, we expect that Congress will write the laws, the courts will interpret them and the president will enforce them.
Indeed, the Constitution states that it is the president’s affirmative duty to enforce the law. That duty is not an abstract formulation. Rather, it means the president cannot decline to enforce laws with which he disagrees or whose enforcement might cause him or his political allies to lose popularity.
It also means the president cannot make up his own version of the law as a substitute for what the Constitution commands or Congress has written.
In the modern era, presidents have rejected the value of the rule of law and instead followed their own political interests. President George W. Bush, for example, while signing into law a federal statute prohibiting the government from reading your mail without a search warrant, boasted that he had no intention of enforcing that law — and we know that he famously did not enforce it.