Some of you may recall a little law known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that went into effect a short while ago. One of the odd aspects of the law is that President Obama has made many changes to it, and has done so without consulting Congress. Obama has delayed the mandate that employers either provide insurance for employees or pay a fine by a year. He’s allowed certain insurance plans which supposedly couldn’t be legally sold to be sold anyway for another year. He’s allowed some of the people who don’t have insurance to ignore the individual mandate and not get fined this year. And so forth. It’s unclear whether these changes are legal, and lawsuits seeking to overturn some of them are in progress.
Now anyone who’s passed a 9th grade civics class knows we have three branches of the federal government. The legislative branch makes laws, the judicial branch interprets laws, and the executive branch enforces laws. That’s the theory, at least. President Obama can’t simply create a new law without going through Congress, but he’s apparently decided that once a law is passed, it’s okay to selectively enforce it. In cases such as delaying the employer mandate, what he’s officially doing is saying that he won’t enforce that part of the ACA, even though it is a law and is still in effect.
So if Obama is allowed to do this sort of thing, what sort of precedent does that create? Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario: it’s January 21, 2017, and the newly elected President, Phineas Glump, has just entered office. Could President Glump simply declare that he won’t bother enforcing the entire ACA, effectively nullifying it? Could he nullify other laws in the same manner? Has this ever been an issue before?