In the past few weeks I have returned from a family trip where we viewed original documents of our nations founding and visited Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington.
As a result of the things we saw and read, I was forced to reflect on how and why our country started and what we are doing today. For example, we visited the National Archives and saw the original documents of the Magna Carta written first in 1215, the Declaration of Independence 1776, the U.S. Constitution 1787 and the Bill of Rights 1789. It was an actual, back-of-the-neck hair-raising moment, to stand in the present of these original documents and think about how far we have come in freeing the human individual and improving their living conditions.
I was most struck by the Magna Carta. As I recall however, it was only mentioned in passing in my school civics class. As a refresher for all of us, King John (a tyrannical king) was forced to sign the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215, in an effort to prevent some 40 rebellious barons from removing him from the throne via force. The barons were tired of the king's arbitrary decision making, his actions in the dark of night, his emissaries taking extraordinary actions on their own and his overall government's oppressive actions. The barons wanted to force the king to limit his powers by law and to protect individual rights and privileges. A number of key constitutional concept originated in this document, such as: It limited the king's power in general (the king was no long above the law); the king would now accept the "common counsel of our realm" (like working with the Congress to pass laws or accepting "advise and consent"); limited his power to raise taxes; no trials without the judgement of ones peers, the king could only appoint those who knew the law and would keep within it; established a formal court that must meet at set intervals to hear grievances; no one could be put on trial based only upon the unsupported word of the king's (government) official, (the) king could not sell, delay or deny justice and government officials could not try a crime in place of a judge.
At this time in history the barons had had enough. They were tired of the king and his government setting rules they liked to the disadvantage of most all others. With these actions the king's government was the masters telling the slaves, not free people what they must do. This is the very essence of tyranny.
The Magna Carta was a truly historical effort to limit the power of the king and the king's government. But as we know, governments don't give up easily. By the mid-15th century, the king's government had reduced or removed many of the rights secured in the Magna Carta. However, jurist Edward Coke (chief justice of King's Bench in the middle 15th century) interpreted the Magna Carta to apply not only to the protection of nobles but to all subjects of the crown equally. Not only that, he argued that the Magna Carta denied the king sovereign rights with the claim that "Magna Carta is such a fellow, that he [King] will have no 'sovereign." He believed that statutes, not the king, were absolute.
This document was an important part of the historical process that lead to the rule of constitutional law in the English-speaking world. The Magna Carta was important to our early colonization of America as they used it as a model as they were developing their own legal systems. For example, in 1638 Maryland sought to recognize Magna Carta as a part of the law of the province but as you might guess, the then-king would not allow it.
Reflecting on today's state of affairs, many are concerned about our current president and his government's bureaucratic actions. Among the most conspicuous actions are the lack of concern for constitutional requirements and law. For example, there is the use of unaccountable bureaucracies like the EPA to implement his "War on Coal." In this case, even when Democrats ran both sides of the Congress with filibuster-proof majority he could not get his anti-carbon bill passed, so the president imposed his desires by using unaccountable bureaucracies. Then there is his Justice Department's sinister attack on the First Amendment via the Associated Press and a Fox News reporter. Or, the repugnant use of the IRS for political reasons. And, the appointment to the NLRB of two union cronies during non-recess.
To add salt to our wounds, we all have to be concerned about this president's approach to the selective enforcement of what he likes and doesn't like. Think back to granting waivers to No Child Left Behind, or the Dream Act changes during the election, or the reduction in work requirements on welfare, all done by fiat. This president does not consult with Congress, let alone get approval. It seems if he can't do it via fiat then he unilaterally rewrites the law via regulations. Today, it is reported there are another 4,062 new regulations in various stages of completion. It is reported that in the past few years the rules issued have outnumbered laws passed by Congress 223 to 1. In de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America," he wrote, "The inhabitant of the United States has only a defiant and restive regard for social authority and he appeals to it ... only when he cannot do without it."
Now, the president's most egregious announcement is that he is illegally delaying the implementation of the "employer mandate," when the law states it would take effect date certain "after December 31, 2013." It's very clear in our Constitution Article II, Section 3, that the president "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." The framers of our Constitution made this a requirement, not an option of the president. Presidents do have flexibility in how they enforce laws but not whether to do so. According to our laws, the only option the president has if he dislikes the law is to veto or to propose new legislation.
Think about the above actions by this president for a moment. Now consider the current squabble in Washington about a fix for our broken immigration laws, in which we have differing views. What Congress does in coming together for a new law of the land becomes meaningless and irrelevant if presidents are free to disregard those parts of the law they don't like. If this is allowed to happen, we will have a king in the White House.
It's striking to see this president's contempt for America's democratic process and consent, and his disregard for the Constitution and the American people. Few American's like what they are seeing from this president. He is the most radical man to occupy the White House in my lifetime.
Now, return to my trip and the reason the barons forced the king to sign the Magna Carta. If we were still in the year 1215, I'm very sure the barons would have been on the march to throw this arrogant, contemptuous and abusive leader out. If you feel as Lincoln did (that) "America (is) ... the last best hope" for the individual. Or, like the barons and our founding fathers, that the majority of Americans today just want a better life for themselves and their families with a minimum of government intrusion. If that's the case, you can't be neutral and just stand on the sideline when you now see what's happening to your country.
Jim Albertson is a business consultant and lives in Ogden.