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Opinion
Stephen Mihm

Would John Boehner Have Sued Thomas Jefferson?

Presidential power has been a gray area since the founding of the republic, bedeviling the executive and legislative branches alike.
Speaker John Boehner says the House will sue President Barack Obama’s administration over what he called a pattern of ignoring parts of federal laws the president doesn’t like.
Speaker John Boehner says the House will sue President Barack Obama’s administration over what he called a pattern of ignoring parts of federal laws the president doesn’t like.

House Speaker John Boehner is suing President Barack Obama for "not faithfully executing the laws of Congress." Republicans single out the president's refusal to deport certain populations of "illegal" immigrants, the administration's selective enforcement of drug laws, as well as delays in the enforcement of the Affordable Care Act.

There's more than a bit of political maneuvering behind Boehner's suit. But it raises an important question: Is the president bound to enforce the law exactly as Congress demands? Or does the president have some discretion, particularly if he believes the law to be unreasonable or unconstitutional?