It is amazing that for 227 years, a single document has been the primary guide of our great country – the Constitution. While we have amended it, the vision for our country as laid out by the founding fathers still stands.
Among the amendments to the Constitution and the adjoining Bill of Rights, I find myself concentrating more and more on the provision for checks and balances of federal power. That idea is especially relevant today as we see each branch of government drift further from the intentions expressed by the founders.
Of course we are all aware of the checks and balances within the federal government, laid out horizontally between three separate branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial. As it is supposed to work, the people elect the legislative branch to create the laws and elect the executive branch to carry out the laws. The judicial branch then reviews the laws.
As the Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma, I, too, was elected to protect your liberties and freedom. Part of my responsibility is to participate in the vertical checks and balances between states and the federal government. As Washington looks less like the functional model that the framers imagined, we must rely more heavily on this crucial check of federal power.
Currently, Congress has an incapability to write bills that have a chance of being signed in to law, and therefore the president decides he can use the pen or the phone to take executive action. Other Washington dysfunction includes executive branch departments that decide not to carry out the laws with which that agency is tasked and other departments that create regulation in lieu of congressional action.
These situations may be viewed as merely shortcuts by some, but these moves of political expediency are the first step in the infringement of our rights and a degradation of our constitutional framework.
Out of respect for this vital framework, I work every day to protect the liberties outlined in the Constitution, whether it is being a check on executive power or prosecuting those who infringe others’ rights. My office on many fronts is engaged in legal challenges that seek to hold the administration and various federal agencies accountable to the roles prescribed to them under the Constitution.
These issues are not a statement on the wisdom – or lack thereof – of any particular policy decision made by Washington politicians. These issues are not about politics either. At the attorney general’s office, we are focused on a much larger issue and that is preserving the rule of law on which our system of government hinges.
To some it may seem arbitrary to draw such a distinction, but it was George Washington who said, “The constitution is the guide, which I will never abandon.” We too, should consider what political corner-cutting now will mean for our future. It is more than our right to act in protection of the Constitution, it is our responsibility.
Let us revel in that responsibility, as we also celebrate the document that laid the foundation for our great nation.
Scott Pruitt is Oklahoma’s elected attorney general.