Editorial: You can't just take your ball and go home

Sep. 05, 2013 @ 01:32 AM

Presidents of the United States, current and past, have been criticized from the right and the left for issuing “signing statements” with new laws passed by Congress that essentially say the executive branch will not enforce those laws, or will not enforce certain parts of them.

President Obama also has come in for pointed criticism for decisions against deporting certain undocumented immigrants and going easy on minor drug crimes.

What then to make of Gov. Pat McCrory’s decision to ignore a couple of laws that the General Assembly passed over his veto?

We admit, we are torn. We supported one of the vetoes, against a measure requiring drug testing and criminal background checks of people applying for federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, a cash assistance program, and requiring background checks, including fingerprinting, for applicants for food stamps. As many including McCrory have noted, the experience of other states shows that such programs cost far more than they save, thereby increasing the size and cost of government with what amounts to mere busywork.

However, the state and U.S. constitutions describe a legislative process in which the executive branch has a method for attempting to block laws with which it disagrees, but when that law passes anyway by a vote to override the executive’s opposition, that ends the argument. The legislative branch then has exercised its constitutional duty to write the law, and then the executive branch must exercise its constitutional duty: to execute the law.

Now, when legislators pass laws without providing the resources to enforce them, it becomes the duty of the executive branch to set priorities, which may mean choosing to focus on high-priority cases and let lower ones go. That is not a new or unusual situation, from presidents all the way down to local police departments.

And in fact McCrory said that one reason his administration will not enforce the drug-testing law is that the General Assembly provided insufficient funding for it.

But on the override of his second veto, involving a measure backed by agriculture interests that extends from 90 days to nine months the amount of time that an employee could work without undergoing a background check in the federal E-Verify system, which is meant to ensure workers are legal U.S. residents or citizens, McCrory has no budget basis for working against the law, as he said Wednesday he would. He simply disagrees with the policy. He has that right, but he lost the argument.

The idea that either presidents or governors can simply walk away from the law or actively attempt to thwart it because they disagree with it rubs us wrong.