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When Shutdown Orders Overrule the Constitution

October 22, 2013 in Economics

By Richard W. Rahn

Richard W. Rahn

If you were a U.S. National Park Service ranger, would you have kept disabled World War II veterans from going to their privately funded, open-air memorial in Washington? A congressman confronted a park ranger and told her she should be “ashamed.” The congressman has apologized, but should he have done so?

The ranger was obeying a questionably lawful order from a higher-up. Whoever was at the top of the chain giving the order ought to be ashamed because government is not supposed to create unnecessary misery and hardship, which is obviously what the Obama administration attempted to do with the recent government “shutdown.”

The reason for the dysfunction in Washington is that the government is trying to do too many things that are not authorized by the Constitution, or that governments are incapable of doing competently at all.”

In a number of cases, officials of the Obama administration appear to have given unlawful orders during the shutdown, such as to put up barricades to prevent people from going to nonfederal attractions such as Mount Vernon, and keeping open nonessential activities like federally owned golf courses that serve the “well-connected.” The Uniform Code of Military Justice Section 892, Article 92 makes it clear that military personnel have an obligation and a duty to obey only lawful orders and, indeed, have an obligation to disobey unlawful orders, including orders by the president that do not comply with the code. The moral and legal obligation of the military is to the U.S. Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders, especially if those orders are in direct violation of the Constitution and the code. Civilian employees also have an equal obligation to disobey unlawful orders.

The illegitimate orders that government workers followed during the shutdown might seem like minor infractions, but those who committed them should think about where they would draw the line. Authoritarian regimes often start by demanding that their staffs make minor infringements of civil liberties, but these tend to grow quickly until the people are cowed. Soon, government workers who are doing what they know to be wrong become too frightened of the monster they helped create to stop.

Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution makes it clear that only Congress can authorize and appropriate funds, yet it is estimated that during the shutdown, only 17 percent of government spending was temporarily halted. A substantial portion of the other 83 percent was …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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