This opinion originally ran on USA Today and can be found here.
This week, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction blocking the Trump administration from using $3.6 billion in federal military construction money that Congress made off-limits to construct a border wall. The injunction follows a ruling in which the court invalidated President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration at the southern border. The judge recognized that the “emergency” was just a pretext for the administration to spend money that Congress had denied, and that doing so violated congressional appropriations law.
This is a victory not just for members of the border and immigrant communities, but also for the rule of law — and it’s an example of patriots working across partisan lines to defend the Constitution. Congress should take note.
Unusual partners align on lawsuit
Tuesday’s order was the result of a lawsuit filed by what some might consider to be an unusual alliance. We, the authors, are a conservative “establishment” lawyer who held high-ranking positions in George H.W. Bush’s Department of Justice, and a progressive grassroots organizer who founded the Border Network for Human Rights, an advocacy organization for immigrant families.
Though we come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, we both recognized that the president’s phony emergency — and his attempts to undermine Congress’ role as the appropriator of federal money — pose a threat to our democracy.
Regardless of party, we all have a vested interest in preserving democracy and preventing tyranny.
We hear all the time that America is hopelessly polarized. But there is still hope that Americans can stand united to defend common values. Because neither liberals nor conservatives want to live under the yoke of an autocrat. The Constitution forces the executive branch to share power with Congress and the federal courts to ensure that we have a president, not a king. And when President Trump claims that he has the right to do whatever he wants without accountability, he shows himself to be exactly the kind of autocrat that our Founders designed the Constitution to avoid. If he’s allowed to break down the Constitution’s limits on presidential power, it also eases the path for future autocrats to arise — perhaps next time from the left.
The administration’s outrageous and expansive views of presidential power, including the idea that the president’s decisions cannot be reviewed in court, are creating strange bedfellows everywhere. Organizations including Republicans for the Rule of Law, R Street Institute, the Brennan Center for Justice and Protect Democracy recently teamed up to push for reforms to the National Emergencies Act. Democratic and Republican lawmakers joined forces to support legislation that would sunset national emergencies after 30 days unless Congress votes otherwise. There are many more opportunities to reach across the ideological divide and say: Enough — everyone, even the president, has to obey the rules.
Take long-term approach
The impeachment inquiry is one of those opportunities. Without arguing for or against impeachment, we believe that all members of Congress should approach the inquiry with a long-term mindset and put country over party. That means our representatives should think about how we want future presidents to behave, not just President Trump.
The success of our case is a blueprint for the days ahead. There are some principles that are so deeply held, and so fundamentally American, that they can still unite us. Americans value freedom. We value fairness. And we understand that for our system to work, no one can be above the law. Those of us who believe in democratic accountability outnumber the supporters of tyranny, and we should make every effort to partner with our ideological opposites when there is an opportunity to vindicate our shared values.
Stuart Gerson served as acting U.S. attorney general and as an adviser to President George H.W. Bush. Fernando Garcia is executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.