Barack Obama on The Constitution

Last Updated : Aug 10, 2012


Overall Constitutional View

In his second book, The Audacity of Hope, State Senator Obama asserted that the Constitution was not a static document, but rather a living one, that must be read in the context of an ever-changing world. He went on to add that democracy was a conversation to be had  and that the genius of the Constitution was not that it provided a blueprint for action, but rather that it forced us into a conversation.

In separate radio interviews in 2001, State Senator Obama spoke at length about the constitution. In on inerview, he called the Constitution an imperfect document in reference to it's obvious omission of slaves being given equal rights. He stated that this imperfection, or blind spot in the culture, continues to this day. In a second interview, State Senator Obama asserted that the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties in that it states what the State and Federal government could not do to you. He asserts that it is flawed in that it does not state what the State and Federal governments should be obligated to do on your behalf. In discussing the Warren court, Obama stated that it wasn't truly radical in that it did not break free from the constraints placed upon it by the founders. He noted that the court never ventured into the issue of redistribution of wealth, and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in the society.

Signing Statements

During the 2008 election, signing statements were discussed often due to President Bush's use of them to change the meanings of legislation that he was signing into law. Senator Obama was asked about the use of signing statements in a Boston Globe questionnaire in December of 2007. In responding to that questionnaire, Senator Obama stated that while it is legitimate for a president to issue a signing statement to clarify his understanding of ambiguous provisions of statutes and to explain his view of how he intends to faithfully execute the law, it is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability. He then asserted that as President, he would not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law.

At a rally in Colorado in May of 2008, Senator Obama was asked about signing statements. In answering the question, he noted that Congress's job is to pass legislation and that the President can either veto it or sign it. He then asserted that George Bush has been trying to accumulate more power in the Presidency by interpreting laws as he sees fit. He pledged not to use signing statements in his administration to alter laws.

From 2009 to the end of 2011, President Obama had written 19 signing statements. Several of these statements raised concern from both parties. Among these was a July 2009 statement attached to a funding bill. The bill required that certain requirements be met by the IMF and World Bank before funding could go to those sources. In his signing statement, President Obama asserted that while he was signing the bill into law, he would not abide by the provisions as they interfere with the President's ability to dictate foreign policy. Congressmen Frank and Obey sent a letter to President Obama expressed concern about the course of events.

In April of 2011, the Congress passed legislation which did not allow the executive branch to use funds to pay for "czars" appointed to certain advisory positions on specific subjects. In the signing statement on the law, the President asserted that he had the right to appoint advisors and would be disregarding that portion of the law.

In December of 2011, he signed another spending bill which dictated spending requirements for Afghanistan funds and numerous other items. In his signing statement, President Obama asserted that he would not abide by these provisions as they again interfered with his foreign policy duties.

That same month, the President signed the 2012 NDAA into affect. In that statement, he noted again that provisions relating to funding of moving terrorists from Guanatanamo and other areas interfered with his foreign affairs power. He also noted that he would not hold some provisions as binding.

Executive Authority

President Obama has expanded the scope of executive authority beyond measurable means. This expansion has been seen in the areas of marriage, the second amendment, immigration, the authority as commander in chief, and in programs such as TARP.

In December of 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would not be defending the Defense of Marriage Act in new cases. The administration asserted that the law was not constitutional it its view and therefore it would not defend it in court. This represented an expansion of power in the assertion that the executive branch can now decide what laws are and are not constitutional.

In addressing the second amendment, the President has called for ratification of international treaties that would override the second amendment in the US. The Obama administration also began demanding in July of 2011 that gun store owners in certain states report the sale of rifles. This was done through bureaucracy and had no law backing the rule.

Most of the expansion of the presidential authority has been seen in two areas, one of which is immigration. In June of 2012, the Obama administration deemed that certain illegal aliens would not be deported. These aliens matched the profiles of those that the President had stated he woudl like to see legislation passed to make them legal or citizens. When Congress refused to pass such legislation, the President claimed the authority to direct the Immigration and Custums Enforcement (ICE) bureau to act as if such a law were in place and cease deportation of certain illegal aliens. He also created a waiver system in which those aliens could work legally.

The second major expansion of executive authority came under the President's power as commander in Chief. The President was limited under the war powers act to a 60 to 90 day committment of forces and only in response to a threat to US forces or interests. Upon going into Libya, the President asserted that the UN Security Council resolution represented authority to go to war and that allowing drones and intelligence officials to remain in Libya did not meet the war powers limitation as US troops themselves were not in danger.

In an Armed Services meeting, President Obama's Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asserted to members of Congress that NATO or UN resolutions were legal justification for the US military to act and that Congress may be informed of the decision, but that congressional approval was in no way required for the President to act. While the President is allowed to use the military to defend US interests or forces for a given amount of time before seeking approval from Congress, the assertion that there was time to notify UN or NATO forces but the Congress would not be notified was a new assertion of power.

In addressing TARP, Senator Obama stated that he had wanted the TARP legislation to include provisions to help homeowners. After taking office, President Obama created those programs and allocated funds to them. The TARP legislation clearly defines what can and can't be purchased and what those items can be purchased from. The Obama administration moved to purchase different items, allocated money to GM, and then injected itself into the bankruptcy process to alter it so that the allocation of funds from that process differed from the normal legal process.


The Audacity of Hope

In his second book, then State Senator Obama discussed his view of the constitution as a living document and argued against a strict constructionist agenda.


2001 radio interviews

In a 2001 Chicago public radio interview, then State Senator Obama made the following comments concerning "the flaw" in the constitution.  That flaw is an obvious reference to slavery.  The statement has garnered some controversy in that State Senator Obama stated that in his opinion, the flaw "continues to this day".


In another interview on the same radio station in 2001, State Senator Obama openly discussed the use of the supreme court to redistribute wealth.  He goes on to say that while the Warren court viewed the constitution as a charter of negative liberties in that but should have also viewed it as a document that gives requirements to the government.  His exact quote is that  "it says what the state and federal government can't do to you, it doesn't say what it should do for you".  He also uses the term "redistributive weatlh" a number of times in reference to the court.



Boston Globe Interview

In December of 2007, Senator Obama was interviewed by the Boston Globe and asked about signing statements and the ability of the President to opt out of an unconstitutional law.


Pledge Not to Use Signing Statements

In May of 2008, Senator Obama was holding a rally at in Grand Junction Colorado and was asked about signing statements. In his response, he pledged to never use a signing statement to alter a law. He also noted that he taught constitutional law.


Memo on Signing Statements

On March 9, 2009 President Obama issued a memo noting the topic of signing statements and the constitutionality of using them in the past.


Frank-Obey Letter on Statements

In July of 2009, Congressmen Barney Frank and David Obey wrote a letter to President Obama criticizing him for a recent signing statement. In that letter and press statement, the Congressmen state that they oppose President Obama's actions in ignoring requirements put in place in order for the funding to be used for the World Bank or the IMF.


Signing Statements on Czars

In April of 2011 President Obama signed a statement concerning the 2011 budget. That budget prevented the use of funds for "czars" that are appointed by President Obama for given issues. The signing state asserts that the Obama administration will not abide by that provision.


Signing Statement on 2011 Consolidated Funding Bill

In December of 2011, President Obama issued a signing statement on the 2011 consolidated spending bill. In that statement, he asserted that he would not abide by provisions that he viewed as encroaching upon his foreign policy powers as President.


Signing Statement on 2012 NDAA

In December of 2011, President Obama signed a statement in relation to the 2012 NDAA, in that statement he notes several areas in which he would not be abiding by the law as established. Among these was the areas requiring funding for Afghanistan and other areas to accompany certain actions.



Sponsored and Cosponsored Legislation

This representative has not been identified as sponsoring or cosponsoring significant legislation related to this title.


[1] Website: The New York Times Article: Obama’s Embrace of a Bush Tactic Riles Congress Author: Charlie Savage Accessed on: 08/10/2012

[2] Website: The New York Times Article: Obama Challenges Provisions in Budget Bill Author: Charlie Savage Accessed on: 08/10/2012

User Comments