Obama: above the fray or above the law?

Logan Albright Fellow, Prosperity Caucus
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Last week, President Barack Obama failed to appear at a Georgia hearing to determine whether he is in fact eligible to appear on the ballot for the upcoming presidential election, due to concerns about his citizenship status. District Chief Judge Michael Malihi had issued a formal subpoena for the president, and later denied a motion to excuse him from appearing. It seems that one person, at least, was taking the case seriously.

In his absence, President Obama might have at least sent a lawyer to represent his interests, but the administration’s opinion of the hearing was evidently so low as not to warrant even such a minor response. Instead, attendees were left staring at an empty chair while two attorneys took turns arguing about the president’s eligibility to serve.

I should take this opportunity to make it clear that I have no sympathy for the so-called “birther” movement. The president has released his long-form birth certificate as requested, and by this time it should be plain to all rational people that he is a natural-born American citizen. It is therefore not surprising that he would fail to see the Georgia hearing as a serious threat, or indeed one worthy of even addressing.

However, the administration’s behavior in this case speaks to a broader pattern of continued arrogance and elitism that we have seen over the last three years. Obama was lawfully subpoenaed by a sitting judge in good standing, and yet he ignored the summons as if it were no more than the rantings of a fringe website. A president is not a king. The judicial branch is not subservient to the executive branch. We have a political system in which our elected officials are not above the law, but are expected to obey it as does every other private citizen.

Failure to obey a subpoena is a crime, and it is appalling that the president of the United States would brush aside the law of the land merely because he finds it an inconvenience. Whether a case is too trivial or frivolous to warrant a response is a decision to be made by a judge, not a president, and Judge Malihi has made his decision abundantly clear.

The sad thing is that such an abuse of power is likely to go unchallenged, only reaffirming Obama’s immunity from the law in his own mind. The judge has the authority to hold the president in contempt of court, but is unlikely to do so for political reasons. Just as the crime of perjury went unpunished in the case of President Clinton, so will the crime of truancy be swept under the rug here, setting a dangerous precedent for the country at large.

When we allow politicians, whose salaries we pay and who are supposed to represent our interests, to behave as if they were royalty, exempt from the laws which they so zealously enforce on the non-rich, non-famous “commoners” over whom they rule, we travel down a road that can have but one end: tyranny.

Logan Albright is an economist and researcher at the American Action Forum.