WHEN THE Congress refused year after year to reauthorize or repeal No Child Left Behind, President Obamas education secretary essentially updated it himself, announcing last fall that he would award waivers that had the effect of gutting key provisions of the meddlesome law.
When minority Republicans convened pro-forma sessions of the U.S. Senate last Christmas to keep Mr. Obama from misusing a procedural move to bypass the Senates abuse of another shady procedure that was blocking votes on controversial appointments the president made recess appointments anyway, in what was at best the most audacious stretch weve seen of the confirmation-bypass maneuver.
When the Congress refused to pass the Dream Act to extend amnesty to children of illegal aliens, the president renamed the proposal a policy change, and started offering the functional equivalent of amnesty.
For these sorts of actions, critics call the president a dictator and a tyrant, bent on destroying our nation.
What, then, should we call our governor?
When Occupy Columbia protesters camped out on the State House grounds last year, Gov. Nikki Haley assumed powers that did not exist and that, had they existed, would not have been hers to act upon and ordered arrests. In issuing a restraining order, a federal judge noted that the governor was making up the rules as she went along.
When the state Supreme Court ordered party and election officials to obey a state law that no rational person could defend, the governor persuaded the GOP executive committee to ignore the order and put her favorite candidate back on the ballot. The Election Commission refused to acknowledge the resulting lawlessness, saving the governor and the party the ignominy of being found in contempt of court.
When the Legislature passed a budget that required taxpayers to pay for state employees health-insurance premium increases, the governor, treasurer and comptroller general voted to raise employees rates anyway. A lawsuit challenging the decision is built on a string of unanimous Supreme Court rulings that adopted the arguments put forth by a string of Republican attorneys general.
The only thing (other than politics) that differentiates the governors overreaching from the presidents is that he doesnt have any court rulings against him, or even, for that matter, a consensus of opposition in the serious legal community.
The serious legal community is in agreement that the governor has overstepped her authority. The court has so ruled in the first case. No one has even tried to put forth a legal argument justifying what she tried in the second case. And the most recent case well, well see, and likely sooner than later, but for the life of me I cant imagine how she could possibly win that one.
No matter how masterfully Gov. Haley tries to frame it that way, the issue simply is not who should pay for the premium increases. Just as it was not whether its fair to kick candidates off the ballot for a technical error that they were misled into making. Just as it was not whether people should be allowed to take up residence on the State House grounds as a form of protest.
In all three cases four actually, if you go back to her unconstitutional attempt to force the Legislature back into extraordinary session because it refused to pass a bill she (and I) supported the governor has had an excellent political argument. But in each case, it was only that a political argument.
In each case, as with the presidents actions, the issue that must be addressed before we ever get to the political question is the rule of law. What do the statutes and the constitution allow the governor to do?
Three times in less than a year, our governor has ignored the rule of law. Pretended that the limits of the constitution or the statutes do not apply to her. Had people arrested for doing things no law prohibited. Persuaded her political minions to take action in direct defiance of an unambiguous Supreme Court order. Assumed the power to rewrite the duly enacted state budget.
Perhaps we could forgive her one such instance of lawlessness. After all, she had extraordinarily limited governmental experience or exposure when she came to office. But three in less than a year? With no regret? Nothing to hint that she realizes she went too far?
Perhaps we could forgive Ms. Haley her initial decision on the health-insurance premiums. When she raised the issue at the State Budget and Control Board meeting, she simply wanted to delay the boards (perfunctory) approval of the rates until a new panel she helps appoint could take office and, she thought, recommend changes.
It was only after the boards attorney said the board had the authority to act in place of that new panel and did not press the point when he warned that the board couldnt ignore the funding plan in the state budget that Ms. Haley pressed forward. And then she did so only at the instigation of Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, and with the support of Treasurer Curtis Loftis.
But we cant forgive her for how she has acted since then. Mr. Loftis at least has said he will reverse his vote if he can be convinced that the board acted lawlessly. The governor doesnt even acknowledge that theres a legitimate question. Instead, she dismisses the notion almost in passing, and returns to her political argument about what policy should and shouldnt be.
There is no way that any attorney with even passing familiarity with our state Supreme Courts separation-of-powers rulings could fail to advise his client that the boards action was at best, at best, on shaky legal ground. That the Legislature has sole authority to appropriate. That once it appropriates, the executive must carry out those appropriations, whether they make sense or not.
The fact that the governor would be so utterly disdainful of the legal questions at play suggests that either she has ignored solid legal advice or else and this is more disturbing, because it indicates that she is completely surrounded by sycophants she hasnt heard any.
Ms. Scoppe can be reached at email@example.com or at (803) 771-8571.