President Trump Had Considerable Success Restoring The Rule of Law In 2017
Now is the time of year when everyone looks back on the past year, and newspapers and websites are filled with headlines like, “The Top Ten News Stories of 2017,” “The 15 Worst Tweets in 2017,” and “The Top 5 Viral Videos of 2017.” Unlike the first year of the Obama Administration, it is unlikely you will see any stories in the mainstream media about the success of the Trump Administration in 2017. Despite the media silence, 2017 has been a strong first year for President Trump. Let’s review.
Since he took the presidential oath of office, Donald Trump started working to nominate conservatives who respect the Constitution and roll back harmful regulatory overreach right away.
Due to the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley in 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court remained open when President Trump took office. He nominated Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch on January 31, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings in March, and the Senate confirmed him on April 7.
At just 50 years old, Justice Gorsuch will serve on the nation’s highest court for many years to come. In his 10 years on the Tenth Circuit, he had demonstrated a commitment to adhering to the text of the Constitution, statutes, and regulations, even when it led to unfortunate results on the facts. He had shown his dedication to the principle that it is for the legislature to decide policy and enact it in law and for judges to apply that law, without inserting their own policy preferences. While his commitment to the rule of law and textualism has earned him the scorn of liberals, it protects the right of the American people to be ruled by the law written by their elected representatives, not by the whim of unelected judges.
One of Trump’s first announcements as President-elect was the intention to nominate then-Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. The Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings in January and the Senate confirmed Attorney General Sessions in early February. Sessions immediately began the important and painstaking work of undoing the politicization of the Department of Justice that occurred under President Obama.
At every turn, Sessions has had to fight against entrenched, liberal career employees and Obama holdovers. But Sessions has remained dedicated. He has increased focus on vigorous and equal enforcement of the laws to reduce violent crime, ended third-party settlement practices that directed taxpayer dollars to liberal outside groups, and defended the rule of law in litigation, such as supporting voter ID laws, free speech, and religious liberty. The process of restoring the rule of law to the Department of Justice will take years, but President Trump and Attorney General Sessions have had an effective first year.
Following quickly on the confirmations of Justice Neil Gorsuch and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Senate has considered and confirmed a record number of federal judges. Most cases do not reach the Supreme Court and federal appellate judges are key to enforcing the rule of law. Twelve excellent circuit court judges have been confirmed, the most for a president’s first year in office. Many district court judges and U.S. attorneys have been confirmed as well. President Trump and his White House Counsel’s office headed by Don McGahn have vetted these distinguished attorneys, and Leader McConnell and Chairman Grassley, aided by Senate Republicans, have followed through to ensure that they are seated on the bench despite the obstruction and delays of the Democrats who have yet to accept the election results from November 2016.
On taking office, President Trump immediately began rolling back the regulatory overreach that was the hallmark of the Obama years. On January 30, he directed that when an agency promulgated a new regulation in 2017, it had to identify two regulations to repeal. He has periodically directed agencies to review the permissibility of particular rules or interpretations that have impermissibly expanded the scope of certain laws and regulations, such as when he directed the Environmental Protection Agency’s Administrator to review the “Waters of the United States” rule on February 28.
As the agency personnel nominated by President Trump have taken office, they have worked to review and undo the harmful and expansive interpretations of the Obama years in their agencies. For example, in October, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt ended the “sue and settle” practices whereby radically liberal environmental organizations controlled how the EPA interpreted its own rules through litigation, often being paid with taxpayer money for their efforts. This process allowed the Obama Administration to ignore the laws passed by Congress to advance a radical, far-left agenda that was not passed or supported by elected official of both parties.
Or consider Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who was designated Chairman by President Trump in January and re-confirmed to a second term in October. His proposal to undo the FCC’s own regulatory overreach of the Obama years, “net neutrality,” was approved last Thursday, despite personal, racially tainted attacks against Pai and his family by outraged liberals. Chairman Pai recognizes that, whatever the merits of “net neutrality” as a policy, it was implemented in an impermissible way. Net neutrality was imposed through an FCC power grab whereby, after 20 years of bipartisan agreement over the Internet, the FCC unilaterally reinterpreted its own governing laws without congressional authorization, despite the previous FCC Chairman admitting that he did not know how the new rule would be interpreted.
Regulatory overreach, legal interpretations, and implementing rules all sound very dry and theoretical, the stuff of law review articles and political science doctoral dissertations. But undoing regulatory overreach and clarifying vague legal interpretations have very clear, real-world consequences. American businesses are governed by these rules, and when interpretations are unclear, businesses do not invest in new projects or begin new research initiatives for fear of running afoul of some broadly interpreted regulation. But when regulations are limited and clear, businesses feel free to invest and expand, creating new jobs and growing the economy, and that is precisely what we are seeing at the end of 2017. Unemployment rates are at lows not seen since the pre-9/11 boom. Despite some of the worst natural disasters in years, the economy is on track for over 3 percent GDP growth for the year, higher economic growth than any year during the Obama Presidency.
While you are reading all the retrospectives on 2017, many of which are very negative, keep this in mind. Thanks to President Trump, Republican senators, and the agency personnel selected by President Trump, the outlook for upholding the rule of law through the courts for years to come is encouraging and the prospect for an economy that continues to boom after being released from eight years of over-regulation is strong.
Joanne W. Young is co-chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association. She also serves as vice president of the League of Republican Women of Washington, D.C. In 2015, she was named “Star of the Bar” by the Women’s Bar Association.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.