Constitutional Law

House authorizes suit against Obama over executive action on health-care law


The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday authorized a lawsuit against President Obama challenging his executive actions on the health-care law.

The idea for the suit was driven by conservative legal scholars who believe the best way to for a suit to survive a standing challenge is for the entire House to pass legislation authorizing it, the Washington Post reports. All but five Republicans voted in favor of the measure, while all Democrats voted against it, according to the Post, Legal Times, the Washington Times and the New York Times.

The suit would challenge Obama’s delayed implementation of the employer mandate to provide health insurance for employees, according to the Washington Times.

During a floor debate, Republicans argued that Obama had in effect rewritten the health-care law, violating the Constitution. “No member of this body needs to be reminded about what the Constitution states about the president’s obligation to faithfully execute the laws of our nation,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change? Are you willing to let anyone tear apart what our founders have built?”

Obama called the lawsuit a “political stunt” in a speech in Kansas City. “They’re going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So they’re mad I’m doing my job,” Obama said.

In a Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) opinion piece, former Justice Department lawyer David Rivkin and Florida International University law professor Elizabeth Price Foley argued the suit is no stunt. They cite Article I, which vests legislative power in Congress, and Article II, which imposes a duty on the president to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Rivkin and Foley are described as the architects of the lawsuit in another Wall Street Journal article.

“Congress has the exclusive authority to make law,” they write, “because lawmaking requires pluralism, debate and compromise, the essence of representative government. If Congress cannot achieve consensus, that doesn’t mean Congress is ‘broken.’ A divided Congress reflects a divided people. Until there is a compromise acceptable to the majority, the status quo is the only correct path.”

“The lawsuit is necessary to protect the Constitution’s separation of powers, a core means of protecting individual liberty,” Rivkin and Foley say. “Without a judicial check on unbounded executive power to suspend the law, this president and all who follow him will have a powerful new weapon to destroy political accountability and democracy itself.”

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “House speaker says he will sue Obama over executive orders”

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