Last week, a few dozen shouting protesters stormed into the Attorney General’s Offices in Carson City and Las Vegas to protest my decision, a year ago, to join a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s bid to rewrite federal law without Congressional approval. These activists demanded my “deportation” and called a female member of my staff unmentionable names, prompting the need for security to ensure her safety. Yet the decision that really angered them was not mine, but the U.S. Supreme Court’s, which last week refused to lift the stay on the president’s illegal actions. In doing so, the Court left in place the decision of every lower court that has reviewed the matter, as well as the considered judgment of a majority of the States.
From its onset, the suit was never about politics – it was about defending the separation of powers and the rule of law. As Nevada’s chief law enforcement officer and as an Iraq veteran, my argument all along has been that, as complex and painful as this issue is for so many, there is an issue more solemn and transcending: the observance of the rule of law by everyone, including even the president. In 2010, President Obama said: “I am president, I am not king. I can’t do these things just by myself.” In 2011 he said: “[T]he fact of the matter is there are laws on the books that I have to enforce.” But he grew frustrated with Congress’s inaction and decided to change the law himself. He has done this, too, in the areas of healthcare, education, environmental policy, land-use regulation, recess appointments and labor rules. The Supreme Court simply halted his attempt to dictate in ways that the Constitution does not allow.
Why was it important for Nevada to take such a stand? Because in law, precedent is everything. James Madison had a favorite phrase “obsta principiis,” Latin for “resist the beginnings.” He meant that small deviations from the law are often the most fateful, because they always justify the next, larger one. If President Obama can displace statutes with overreaching executive orders, so can our future presidents—in any area of law.
Certainly the suit’s objective was not, as some activists continue to claim, to target any particular group. In fact, I agree with many critics of my decision that our immigration system is broken and needs mending. But the permanent solution can arise only from elected representatives in Congress. Anything less is a false hope, and I believe that the president, by misleading millions into thinking that his solution was lawful, injured them — including many in Nevada.
One can sympathize deeply with the plight of immigrants while also resolving to honor our constitutional safeguards. My family immigrated to the Silver State because the rule of law was their beacon of hope – the guarantee that their adopted country would be a land of opportunity for them. Immigrants just as often flee here to escape government officials who succumbed to the temptation to bypass legal constraints. That temptation always exists, but generations of immigrants should know that liberty is secured, now and forever, by keeping faith with our Constitution. As attorney general, I will always defend the State and honor the rule of law.