Editorial: Obama should respect limits of presidency


OUR VIEW

The Lima News



Perhaps President Barack Obama might benefit from a refresher course on the three branches of government. He essentially played the role of all three of them Wednesday.

The executive branch, which Obama leads, carries out the laws. The legislative branch, also known as Congress, makes the laws. The judicial branch, commonly called the courts, evaluates the laws.

On Wednesday, Obama commuted the sentences of 214 federal inmates, including 67 people serving life sentences. Most were serving time for nonviolent drug crimes involving cocaine, methamphetamines or other drugs. A few involved firearms violations. Most are men. They’re from across the country, including seven from Ohio, albeit none from the Lima region. Most will return to freedom on Dec. 1.

Those 214 commutations are more than any president since Lyndon Johnson signed during an entire term of office, and it was the largest number in a single day since at least 1900. That made Wednesday a historic day.

To be clear, the president of the United States has every right to do this. It’s a perk given to the Commander in Chief. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something, especially at historic levels. It’s impossible to believe Obama personally studied all 214 crimes and can personally vouch for each.

Since he took office, Obama commuted the sentences of 562 people, including 197 with life sentences, and the White House said he plans to do more before he leaves office.

The president ordered his administration to look for sentences on drug offenses that were longer than they’d be if convicted of the same crime today. While we appreciate the cost savings of not housing people who aren’t a threat to their fellow citizens, there’s a proper process to follow: You make a law. You prosecute with that law. You sentence with that law.

When Congress eases sentencing restrictions, it should add a requirement to go back through and retroactively adjust the sentences of people in prison, saving taxpayers’ money. It’s not the president’s job.

The president urged Congress to loosen drug sentencings on the federal level, leveraging this clemency process. This historic number of commutations looks a lot like Obama saying Congress isn’t doing what he wants and past judges didn’t do what he thinks they should have done, so he’ll insert his own judgment until they come around to his way of thinking.

Obama is also thumbing his nose at police officers, who put their lives on the line to capture and arrest these drug criminals. He is ignoring that 55 percent of people in a 2014 Pew Research Center study thought drug abuse was a serious problem, with another 32 percent calling it a crisis. We’re investing billions on a war on terror, only to have its commander in chief releasing people caught in its net.

It’s another example of a president who keeps testing the limits of presidential authority.

This is the president who tried to change the country’s immigration system with his own amnesty program, until the Supreme Court said you can’t use an executive order for that.

This is the president who pushed through comprehensive reforms on healthcare through Congress, only to use executive orders to alter their rules to his liking.

This is the president who pushed to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo prison into the U.S. despite Congress’s bills forbidding him from doing it.

We’re concerned about the encroachment of the executive branch on the other two branches’ duties and responsibilities. We hope Obama and anyone who wants to replace him in office will take the time to thoughtfully consider why these limits exist and respect their importance to our democracy.

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OUR VIEW

The Lima News

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