President Obama’s executive actions on gun control have resulted in a resolution censuring him for abuse of power. Earlier this month, Mississippi Congressman Steve Palazzo introduced the resolution to censure the president for his past “unconstitutional executive actions,” and his “blatant executive overreach” on gun control (via the Hill):
“For seven years, the President has gradually expanded his powers through executive overreach,” Palazzo said in a statement. “His actions this week to take away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens is just the latest, if not most egregious, violation of the separation of powers found in the United States Constitution.”
“Congress must go on record to stand up as an equal branch of government — both against this President and any future president who attempts to use his authority to write the law instead of enforce the law.”
It’s dubious to see whether this censure resolution goes anywhere, but there is precedent for presidential censure. In 1833, President Andrew Jackson was the first president to be censured after vetoing a motion to re-charter the First Bank of the United States, removing the funds from it, and refusing to turn over a document he read to his cabinet when asked by Congress.
When President Bill Clinton found himself embroiled in a sex scandal that almost destroyed his presidency, fellow Democrats drafted resolutions of censure in both chambers. In 2014, John Fund wrote in National Review that Congress “can and should” consider censure resolutions against President Obama for his executive overreach. Concerning impeachment, there’s little to go on with those charges, and it would be viewed as a “personal attack” on the president. Nevertheless, it serves as a “yellow card” for presidents who may have gone too far in their use of executive authority. That goes for both parties.
The Congressional Research Service has identified a number of historical precedents in which the Senate or the House has adopted a resolution of censure or disapproval of a president or other executive or judicial officers. Indeed, in 1998, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein and 37 co-sponsors introduced a joint resolution in the Senate that enumerated President Clinton’s various misdeeds, and “condemn[ed] his wrongful conduct in the strongest terms.” Likewise, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic members of the House proposed similar resolutions, declaring that President Clinton’s actions “fully deserve the censure and condemnation of the American people and the Congress.”
It is important for our overall political health that we focus our criticism on President Obama’s unconstitutional acts and omissions rather than on the president himself. Lawmakers can word a censure resolution carefully to do this. Impeachment, on the other hand, would inevitably be viewed by many as a personal attack on President Obama.
A resolution of censure would serve as a warning, a sort of constitutional yellow card, that Congress and the American people will not tolerate abuses of power indefinitely and that presidents who so overreach risk having a permanent blot on their record. President Obama should not be removed from office, but we will need more than mere criticism or even a lawsuit to remind him that his first duty is to uphold the laws, and that he is falling short.
Editor’s Note: This was cross-posted at Townhall.com.