With upraised right hand and left hand on the Bible, each of our presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush, has solemnly sworn to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution of the United States.
The American Bar Association claims President Bush has violated that oath by issuing hundreds of "signing statements" to disregard selected provisions of the laws that Congress passed and he signed.
A bipartisan, 11-member panel of the ABA found that President Bush is not only disregarding laws but using such signing statements far more than any president in history. In fact, Bush has used signing statements to raise constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions in more than 100 laws. All of the presidents combined before 2001 had issued only 600.
The ABA asserts that signing statements cannot be a substitute for a presidential veto and that such an assertion of presidential power amounts to a line-item veto, which the Supreme Court already has ruled unconstitutional.
The matter will likely be resolved in court. But it stands as a metaphor for a 21st century America that is no longer secure in the claim to be a nation of laws.
The federal government is failing to enforce our laws on a wide range of issues. Trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is clearly a treaty, have not been approved by two-thirds of the Senate as required by the Treaty Clause of the Constitution.
That clause states the president "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." And why has the Senate not been required to approve these treaties? Because the last three presidents have claimed these trade deals are executive agreements rather than treaties.
But if these so-called free-trade agreements are not to be considered treaties, then they are clearly within the power of Congress, not the president. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to "regulate Commerce with foreign nations." But Congress has given up its exclusive constitutional authority to negotiate and regulate trade agreements by ceding "fast-track authority" to the executive branch.
The president's fast-track authority is set to expire next year, more than 30 years after its passage. It is no coincidence that the United States has now posted a trade deficit for 30 consecutive years.
The federal government is also undermining the rule of law in this country when it comes to enforcement of our immigration laws and securing borders and ports.
The Bush administration in its first four years was responsible for 318 fines against employers who hired illegal workers, an average of fewer than 80 each year. That's down from 5,587 fines against illegal employers during the eight years of the Clinton administration, according to the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, an average of 698 each year. And the problem is getting worse; in 2004 only three employers received fines for illegal hiring.
Work site arrests have fallen even more drastically under this president. From 1995 to 1998, there were between 10,000 and 18,000 work site arrests of illegal aliens each year. But during the Bush administration, work site arrests fell to just 159 in 2004.
Apprehensions along the border averaged 1.05 million from fiscal year 2001 to 2004, according to the independent, progressive group Third Way, down from 1.52 million from 1996 to 2000. Border apprehensions have plummeted more than 30 percent, despite a doubling in the number of Border Patrol agents over the past decade and the rising number of attempted crossings.
It is not only the federal government that had diminished our claim to be a nation of laws. More than 70 U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, California, and Chicago, Illinois, have set up "sanctuary" policies that offer safe haven from the law to illegal aliens and their families.
"It most certainly is a blatant violation of the law," says Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Colorado. "There is a provision of the 1996 Immigration Act that is very clear: It says states and localities can't do this. The unfortunate thing is there are no teeth in it."
As Abraham Lincoln said, if bad laws exist they should "be repealed as soon as possible, still, while they continue in force, for the sake of example they should be religiously observed." President Lincoln devoutly believed that rule of law assured that ours would continue to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
And that should be the first demand of every American today.