It appears that there are few folks in Congress in need of a refresher course on the Separation of Powers Doctrine found in the United States Constitution. When U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced his department will begin enforcing federal marijuana laws, several members of Congress and quite a few citizens erupted in outcry. Congressmen have now threatened to obstruct the presidential appointment process as retribution and to force Attorney General Sessions to change his mind and suspend enforcement. The threat of obstruction is absurd and denotes a remarkable misunderstanding of Separation of Powers.
The Obama Administration chose to cease enforcement of a law duly enacted by the legislative body, i.e. Congress. This was a strained version of prosecutorial discretion, and a stunning dereliction of duty. The role of a prosecutor is to enforce the laws enacted by the legislative body. If a law is unworkable or no longer reflects the values of the citizens all public servants are sworn to serve, it is incumbent upon the prosecutor to seek legislative change rather than unilaterally cease enforcement of the law. Enforcing federal law – independent of the popularity of the subject matter – is Attorney General Sessions’ job; to criticize him for doing the job he is mandated to perform relegates the Constitution to little more than elegant historical prose. The Constitution and its doctrine of Separation of Powers is not only a founding document, it is the guiding document upon which our very republic relies. For a congressman to yield to mob mentality and supplant his constitutionally mandated duties for obstructionist purposes reflects a stunning ignorance of the job he or she was elected to perform.
Separation of Powers is a minimum basic structural standard Congress must adhere to. To deviate from this standard because adherence is difficult or the “mob” demands it, is not an excuse and should not be promoted. Creating a law is an arduous and difficult process, as is repealing a law. This is because we rely on our laws and should only enact those laws absolutely necessary to maintain the health, welfare and safety of our nation. If the regulation of marijuana use and distribution is best left to the individual states, Congress should repeal the federal law. So, to those in Congress threatening obstruction, I say: Our republic relies upon you to uphold the entirety of the Constitution, even the parts that may make your job difficult. Do the job you were elected to perform, review the Constitution, and provide principled leadership by educating and legislating rather than yielding to the misinformed mob mentality.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.