When President Richard Nixon refused to spend funds that Congress had ordered him to spend, the court held without dissent in 1975 that the president must follow the federal statute, not his policy preferences.
Obama's decision to "suspend" the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act has no support in precedent and dramatically shifts the arc of presidential power.
The Affordable Care Act has no provision giving the president power to suspend or postpone the mandate. The law requires employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide health insurance coverage or pay a penalty.
Section 1513(d) of the act-titled "Effective Date" stipulates that this mandate "shall apply" after "December 31, 2013."
Which part of "shall" gives the president the power to ignore the law that he signed with such fanfare? If the president can change the effective date to Dec. 31, 2014, what prevents him from changing the date again, along with other provisions?
As Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, asked: "This was the law. How can they change the law?"
If the president has the discretion to ignore laws that he prefers not to exist, the constitutional limits of presidential authority have the restraining power of air.
President George H.W. Bush argued, unsuccessfully, that Congress should lower the capital gains rate. Under Obama's faulty interpretation of presidential power, he should have simply instructed the Internal Revenue Service not to tax capital gains at a rate greater than 10 percent, regardless of the tax code.
The Supreme Court held in 1998 that it was unconstitutional to give the president a line-item veto that Congress could override.
Obama's newfound "power" is much greater than that, because there is no procedure to override a presidential decree.
Going forward, why should lobbyists urge Congress to create, extend or change a tax deduction when all they have to do is persuade the president?
Obama, a proven fundraiser, could outdo himself over the next several years with this new "power."
Nixon might have salivated at such power-which simply isn't part of the president's authority.
Rotunda is a professor of jurisprudence at Chapman University and co-author of a six-volume treatise on constitutional law. He was assistant majority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee from April 1973 to July 1974. This column first appeared in the Washington Post.