The Supreme Court has halted President Obama’s executive order that rewrites immigration law and grants quasi-legal status to nearly five million people in the United States illegally. Despite the President’s rather sanctimonious protestations—“Congress is not going to be able to ignore America forever… we get these spasms of politics around immigration and fear-mongering, and then our traditions and our history and our better impulses kick in”—the ruling actually represents a step toward the restoration of one of the most important American traditions: a limited executive restrained by a system of checks and balances.
As Francis Fukuyama wrote in these pages two years ago: President Obama’s executive orders go far beyond “the implementation of a law passed by Congress.” Instead, he “is in effect making law unilaterally and flying in the face of the expressed will of the people.”
Even putting aside the procedural questions, President Obama’s end-run around Congress has proven particularly corrosive to the fraying political fabric at a time of populist unrest, discontent about mass immigration, and a widespread sense among ordinary voters that their leaders are unaccountable. A President Hillary Clinton who fulfills her promise to “expand” President Obama’s immigration unilateralism will be playing with fire.
But of course a Hillary Clinton presidency is not guaranteed, in which case it’s possible that the President’s allies will end up thanking the Supreme Court’s four conservatives for declining to rubber-stamp President’s immigration diktat. Because a President Trump (or some future nationalist) claiming “broad authority over immigration policy” would be unlikely to share President Obama’s right-side-of-history pieties about the urgent necessity of amnesty, and the fundamental wrongness of people who disagree.