The first day of May is Law Day, which was first designated by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower in 1958 to celebrate our remarkable legal system. The rule of law is the bedrock of our society. The law protects us, our freedoms and our property against arbitrary government action.
The United States grew into an economic powerhouse because foreign governments and businesses recognized and trusted our dedication to following our laws, including our treaty obligations. The honest system of laws set up by the Founding Fathers has made our country the moral beacon of the planet.
One of the most admired features of our legal landscape is that even the most powerful individuals are subject to the law. As Pres. John Adams so aptly stated, “We are a nation of laws, not of men.” Or, as Pres. Teddy Roosevelt put it, “No man is above the law, and no man is below it.”
Unfortunately, many of the actions of our current president have tarnished America’s reputation for lawfulness, both at home and abroad. He seems to feel unconstrained by laws that the rest of us must follow.
The most glaring examples are the efforts of the president to obstruct the Mueller investigation, including his order that White House counsel Don McGahn fire Special Counsel Mueller, then that McGahn commit the felony offense of lying to Mueller about it, then trying to cover up the whole thing. But for a questionable DOJ opinion that a sitting president cannot be held accountable for criminal misconduct, Trump would likely be facing criminal charges. This is all a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s mandate that the president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
But, this is just part of a pattern of ignoring the laws of our great country. During his first two years in office, the president has lost over 90% of the court challenges to his administration’s policies--everything from Medicaid expansion, to teen pregnancy prevention, to amnesty policy, to rollback of environmental regulations. Of 63 court losses in that period, two-thirds were for failure to comply with the 73-year-old Administrative Procedures Act, which bars arbitrary government action.
The president has repeatedly violated our treaty obligations by making false claims that tariffs against the products of close allies, such as Canada, are justified by national security concerns. It is somewhat doubtful that Canada will launch an attack against the U.S. in the near future, unless we keep treating it and our other valued allies as enemies.
The president has sicced government agencies on persons and companies that he regards as enemies. He tried to override postal regulations by demanding that the U.S. Postal Service increase rates for Amazon, because he perceived that the Washington Post, owned by the founder of Amazon, was being unfair to him. That smacks of authoritarian action.
Trump wanted the Justice Department to block AT&T’s merger with Times Warner because he was torqued off at CNN, an AT&T asset. The administration lost the suit. This certainly appears to have been an abuse of government power.
Law Day is a time to reflect upon the economic strength and moral authority this great country has derived from its reliance on the rule of law. We have been that “shining city upon a hill” Pres. Ronald Reagan often spoke about because of our exceptional legal system. Instead of abusing that system and disparaging its judges, we should respect and celebrate it. That job starts at the very top position in our government. If we recognize the great benefits the rule of law has bestowed upon us as a people, it will remain the protector of our society and the envy of the world.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho attorney general and a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice.