by Simon Lazarus
*Simon Lazarus is a lawyer and writer who has frequently contributed to this blog on legal issues related to the health reform wars and other matters.
In endlessly excoriating President Barack Obama’s administration of the Affordable Care Act, ACA opponents featured a once obscure constitutional provision, the Article II clause that directs the President to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Legally, the charge that Obama had breached his “take care” obligation was patently meritless, and Obama’s assailants never took their bombast seriously enough to substantiate it, let alone fit it into a claim to take to court.
Indeed, no court has ever invoked the Take Care Clause as a basis for constraining alleged executive overreach. There are obvious reasons for this. If there were an articulated standard for defining a violation of the clause, it could presumably be comparatively complicated to meet it. A jumping off analogy might be former Justice William Rehnquist’s dictum, in the 1985 case Heckler v. Chaney, suggesting that courts must defer to executive branch decisions not to initiate enforcement proceedings, unless an “agency has consciously and expressly adopted a general policy that is so extreme as to amount to an abdication of its statutory responsibilities.” In that vein, to make out a violation of the president’s take care responsibility, one would likely have to demonstrate a pattern of actions that undermine a law, or laws, and – because of the clause’s focus on good faith (“faithful execution”) – actions that hamstring the law intentionally. While bad intentions can be, and often are, proven by objective, circumstantial evidence, executive officials bent on nullifying a law have presumably had sufficient savvy to cloak wrongful intent behind well-orchestrated procedures that would deter a judge from finding or a litigant from hanging her case on an allegation that they did in the law on purpose.