Let’s begin with President Donald Trump’s claim that Article II of the Constitution grants him unlimited powers. It does not.
How do we know it doesn’t?
Merely reading the Constitution makes that point quite clear.
Maybe the first law that needs to be enacted whenever Sen. Mitch McConnell is no longer, as he refers to himself, “the grim reaper,” is a law requiring the next president to have to read the Constitution before his taking the oath of office; and swearing to “faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Reading the Constitution before swearing to uphold it when he took his oath of office on Jan. 20, 2017, is quite obviously not something the current president did.
Let’s walk through the first three Articles of the Constitution. The articles dealing with the role of Congress in Article I, the role of the president in Article II and the role of the Supreme Court in Article III.
Article I, Section 1, states, “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” To put it another way, it is Congress who enacts laws.
Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution, commonly referred to as the “Appropriations Clause,” reads as follows: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and Account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.” This clause provides Congress with the mechanism to control or limit spending by the federal government.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 provides the source of Congress’ power to spend. It reads: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay debts and provide for the common Defense and general welfare of the United States…”
Now let’s take a look at Article II of the Constitution and see what the framers of the Constitution had in mind regarding executive power. Article II, Section 1, states that “The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”
In Article II, Section 2, the Constitution states: “The president shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, whom called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”
Section 2 goes on to cover the power to make treaties, appoint ambassadors, federal judges and “other officers of the United States.” The Chief Executive of the United States government is, quite obviously, a very powerful position, the most powerful position in the nation, but not all powerful and without some limitations.
In Article II, Section 3, it becomes clear what the primary responsibility of the head of the executive branch of government is.
In that section, it is stated that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” In other words, Congress, the legislative branch of our government, passes laws and the president, the head of the executive branch of our government, is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws enacted by Congress through the various executive branch departments and agencies that the president leads.
Congress passes laws, and the president, through his federal departments and agencies develop the policies and procedures necessary to implement and enforce the laws enacted.
Who decides whether the laws being enforced are not in violation of the Constitution, you wonder?
Welcome to Article III. In Article III, Section 1, it states: “The judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”
In Section 2, the Constitution goes on to state: “The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority.” The judicial power of the Supreme Court regarding “all cases…arising under the Constitution” makes it quite clear that when it comes to the Constitutionality of any law, it is the Supreme Court granted in the Constitution with the responsibility as final arbiter.
The separation of powers created in the Constitution with the three distinct branches of government was intended to provide the checks and balances among the three to prevent any one branch from overtaking the other two.
That, however, relies on each branch to understand and respect the authority of each as well as an understanding of the vision of the founding father in framing the Constitution as the cornerstone of our government. That, at the very least, requires a president, any president, to read the Constitution before swearing allegiance to it.