Can the President legally change a law?

In my inbox today I have received a number of articles and questions concerning presidential authority and whether President Obama has the Constitutional power to amend or to change ACA.

A lot of modern interpretation not surprisingly  is based upon the political Party of the President and who that individual happens to be.  One example of that was a symposium sponsored by the AMERICAN ACTION NETWORK AND CROSSROADS GPS:  “How Does the Executive Branch’s Abuse of Power Threaten Our Economy?”  The focus was on what the groups deemed increasing abuses since the year 2009 and the presidency of Barack Obama.  Two of the speakers, however, were former Attorney General, Edwin Meese III, and a former White House counsel, C. Boyden Gray.  As Mr. Meese stated,

“It’s kind of ironic you have Boyden and me here because when we were with the executive branch, we were probably the principal proponents of executive power under President Reagan and then President George H. W. Bush.”

Instead of an opinion from me about the scope of presidential power in this matter, here are 3 sources where you might find information to either justify or perhaps change your own opinion.

The first might not seem relevant as it is classic historical scholarship, written before my birth, and focuses on the administrations of George Washington and John Adams.

The Federalist Era, 1789-1801 by John Chester Miller

The reason I recommend that work is that it illustrates many of the issues facing George Washington.  Many of the protocols that get cited as being constitutional are in fact merely a following of precedents decided by George Washington.  Some of the things which became topics of debate or disagreement may surprise some people as they really do appear to be minor.

Madison’s Nightmare:  How Executive Power Threatens American Democracy by Peter M. Shane

This work published in 2009 focuses on the period after 1981 as the author sees the Reagan presidency representing a new break from the past.  Some readers may feel that this work is overly critical of Republicans, and I have seen anti-Republican descriptions tossed about.  It is true that much more attention is given to Republican administrations, but one must remember that with the exception of Bill Clinton all Presidents of the United States covered in detail through the publication date were Republicans.

Power without Persuasion:  The Politics of Direct Presidential Action by William G. Howell

This work published in the year 2003 is a true political science tome.  The author draws upon new institutionalism and game theory in his examinations of what political conditions will allow a President the authority to do at particular times.  This inside cover review snippet by Nolan McCarty of Princeton University offers a succinct analysis.

“William Howell persuasively demonstrates that policymaking in the United States cannot be studied within a single institutional arena in isolation. In this innovative study, he draws on theories of executive-legislative and executive-judicial relations to build a model of presidential unilateral action and tests his claims on impressive original datasets. While few will agree with all of Howell’s arguments, his book will likely set both an agenda and a standard for future studies of policymaking and the separation of powers.”

There are many other sources of scholarship available.  Outside of being familiar with Miller’s credentials as I cited his scholarship in a number of papers written throughout graduate school, I have no connection to any of the authors.  These works are merely immediate thoughts which popped out of my mind when asked presidential authority today and if it has changed historically.  What is considered within that authority has indeed changed throughout the course of US history and often for reasons not entirely noticeable for that particular era but realized by future generations.

All books are linked to Amazon.com for reader’s convenience and additional information.

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