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In our opinion: Executive overreach must not become the ‘new normal’

President Donald Trump signs an executive order during a news conference at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020.
Susan Walsh, Associated Press

President Donald Trump signed four new “executive orders” over the weekend after Congress failed to reach a consensus regarding a new economic stimulus package.

The orders — three of which are technically memorandums — represent a growing and concerning pattern of government overreach.

When speed is of the essence, particularly amid a global crisis, the president taking action when Congress will not seems logical and defensible. But the power of the president to personally create, enact and enforce policies or actions through executive orders is limited and even prohibited in the Constitution. Sadly, that fact has been increasingly overlooked in recent presidencies.

Presidents often declare they are acting by executive order because Congress cannot or will not create certainty for citizens.

President Obama’s creation of DACA in 2012 and the subsequent DAPA program — both of which were criticized as overreach during his presidency — were later undone through executive order by President Trump, whose actions were also disputed as overreach.

And while many government mandates and orders surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have been necessary and understandable steps to help stem the spread of the virus and protect citizens, some of the recent orders have demonstrated a continual willingness to overstep the balance of powers between the government branches.

The American people have a duty to hold leaders accountable to the Constitution and ensure that emergency action does not damage the balance of power or infringe upon constitutional rights; even in a pandemic.

At the federal level, the number of executive orders issued this year has already surpassed the total for 2018; not far behind President Trump’s other years in office — and it’s only August.

While some measures have been taken to protect the public during this pandemic, many others have called into question the government’s ability to limit or alter rights in a period of distress.

As noted in an article from the New York Law Journal in May regarding how COVID-19 is affecting constitutional rights, concerns over rights of privacy and surveillance and measures relating to the CARES Act highlight how constitutional rights could continue to be threatened if the government extends mandates put in place to serve the “special needs” of these extenuating circumstances.

Rep. John Curtis said Monday that President Trumps’ orders over the weekend were “irresponsible” and that his actions ignored the “separation of powers ingrained in our Constitution.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on the other hand defended the legality of President Trump’s orders, noting that there was statutory reason to back them, a point he said was not the case with President Obama’s DACA program, which he referred to as “completely” illegal.

But even in defending the current president’s actions, Sen. Lee noted the importance of returning such powers to the legislative branch where they belong.

As long as leaders continue to overstep the bounds of their office, the system of government and therefore individual rights protected by that government are under threat.

Government overreach from any president or executive branch, regardless of political party, must not become “the new normal.”

Citizens have a responsibility to stay informed and question what changes are being made by leaders and hold them accountable for any infringements of those rights. The Constitution’s “Take Care Clause,” both the root of the president’s power for executive orders and the guide for its restraint, should be reexamined and reinforced to ensure executive branch overreach does not become the governing model for the nation.