Constitution clear on separation of powers

To the Journal editor:

Americans often feel we are exceptional. We are. We are blessed with the Constitution of the United States of America. It’s a structure designed to ward off tyranny and ensure civic stability.

This structure is not just our national foundation; it’s our national foundation, floor, walls, and roof. As time goes by we move the furniture around inside the structure, but the structure itself stands firm.

Until, like now, we are faced with an overreaching president and an overly passive Congress.

Our Founders feared the tyranny of kings, and they worked hard to make sure that the United States would never be a monarchy, not just by calling it a republic, but by creating structures that, properly maintained, would make a monarchical-style executive impossible.

So, the Constitution establishes three co-equal branches of government. Article 1 creates Congress and gives Congress the power to enact laws. Article 2 creates the presidency and gives the executive branch the power to execute laws. Article 3 creates the judiciary and gives judges the power to rule on laws. Each branch has responsibilities, each branch is bounded by limits.

When the president tries to control the legislative process, the president is out of bounds. Under the Constitution, legislating belongs to Congress. When a house of Congress refuses to consider legislation without the president’s pre-approval, Congress is irresponsible. Again, under the Constitution, legislating belongs to Congress.

As a former judge, I have watched with dismay as, for decades, Congress has delegated more and more of its powers to the executive branch and presidents have demanded even more. The (recent) government shutdown shows this phenomenon at its most dysfunctional.

We see a president demanding that a spending bill be shaped in one particular way, to spend $5.7 billion on a border wall and effectively holding major governmental functions hostage to his demand. We also see the Senate refusing even to take up legislation without the president’s pre-approval.

Some agree with a wall and some don’t. But we can all agree that the actions of the president and the Senate are contrary to the constitutional structure. The President can request — not demand — legislation; Congress can choose to enact it or not; the president can choose to veto the resulting bill or not; Congress can choose to override the veto or not. That’s our constitutional way. That’s the American way.

Hon. Patricia L. Micklow (ret.)


Editor’s note: Judge Patricia Micklow was judge for the 96th District Court (Marquette County). She resides in Marquette.