President Obama, whom conservative commentators regularly blast as “our lawless president,” could actually go far beyond his current reliance on executive orders to unilaterally push policies that have never made it through Congress, says a legal nonprofit.
The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law on Tuesday released a report containing 15 proposed executive branch agency actions affecting areas ranging from elections to criminal justice to contractor political donations.
“At a time of governmental paralysis, advancing another set of public goals would strengthen democracy, secure justice and further the rule of law,” Brennan Center President Michael Waldman told reporters in a conference call.
While the White House’s actions thus far may help improve America’s economy, the report says, such policies “will achieve little if we do not fix our broken democratic systems.”
Waldman, a former speechwriter in the Clinton administration, said, “Obama is not the only president to discover there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” In fact, the report notes, Obama actually trails all of his recent predecessors in the pace of orders that bypass Congress.
Obama issued 147 such orders in his first term, the Brennan Center found. Harry Truman issued 504 in his first term; Dwight Eisenhower, 266; John F. Kennedy, 214; Lyndon Johnson, 325; Richard Nixon, 247; Gerald Ford, 169; Jimmy Carter, 320; Ronald Reagan, 213; George H.W. Bush, 166; Bill Clinton, 200; and George W. Bush, 173.
“All American presidents have a duty to do what they can to advance goals as long as it’s legal and constitutional,” Waldman said. “He doesn’t face a hostile Congress; he faces a paralyzed Congress.” All 15 of the center’s proposals, Waldman said, “deal with the process of how the government can work better.”
Examples of actions the center would like Obama to take include:
- Request that the Securities and Exchange Commission issue regulations requiring disclosure of corporate political spending;
- Sign an executive order requiring disclosure of political spending by entities awarded government contracts;
- Appoint Republicans and Democrats to the “hamstrung” Election Assistance Commission and Federal Election Commission (the FEC has four members serving beyond their terms and the EAC has been vacant since 2011);
- Convene a White House conference on enforcement of free and fair elections that brings in private-sector expertise and cooperation;
- Issue an executive order directing federal agencies to recast their criminal justice grants into a Success-Oriented Funding model (a performance-based approach that, the center says, has support from progressives, conservatives and law enforcement);
- Issue an executive order applying key federal information-sharing restrictions to “suspicious activity reports” provided by state and local law enforcement; and
- Issue an executive order to “ban the box” on federal agency job applications that asks whether the applicant has served prison time, except for law enforcement positions.
Asked about the Obama administration’s numerous executive moves to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Waldman said that, though his group hasn’t directly addressed the health care law and such moves are “challengeable in court. My sense is that there’s a lot of yelling and screaming” by critics without pointing specifically to what laws might have been violated.