Consider that in Republican Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, we have a presidential candidate who during his high school years in Houston was among several students who met twice a week to read the Constitution and the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers and the even more obscure debates on ratification. All of that while also memorizing the entire Constitution in shortened mnemonic form. Thus, in case you didn’t know (and Cruz still does), “TCC NCC PCC PAWN momma WReN” stands for the powers of Congress in Article I, section 8, of the Constitution: “taxes, credit, commerce, naturalization, coinage, counterfeiting, post office, copyright, courts, piracy, Army, war, Navy, militia, money for militia, Washington, D.C., rules and necessary and proper.” Cruz and the other “Constitutional Corroborators,” as they were called, toured Texas, going to Rotary Clubs and other civic associations, where, from memory, they demonstrated their mastery of the Constitution. The nonprofit sponsoring the program paid them college scholarship money for each speech.
“It became a burning passion,” Cruz told me recently, adding that if he had been asked as a teenager what he wanted to do in life, defending the Constitution would have been at the top of the list. “I readily admit I was kind of a weird kid,” he said. If so, he was a weird kid who knew his Constitution.
It’s not surprising that in college (at Princeton) Cruz did his senior thesis on the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, or that, after earning his law degree from Harvard, he held jobs in which constitutional interpretation was often a daily undertaking—clerking for Chief Justice William Rehnquist (in 1997), serving five years as solicitor general of Texas (2003 to 2008), and representing private clients in the federal courts, winning plaudits for his skillful advocacy. Now, not surprisingly, Cruz the presidential candidate has what might be called a constitutional agenda.
Last spring, in announcing his candidacy at Liberty University, Cruz effectively identified this agenda when he said, “It is time to reclaim the Constitution.” As president, he would pursue that goal in a variety of ways—starting on January 20, 2017. A newly sworn-in President Cruz would “rescind,” he tells me, “every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by President Obama.”
The president, of course, has taken a lot of “executive actions.” They include executive orders, presidential memorandums and directives, and informal guidance and orders from agencies. They have dealt with a variety of domestic policy areas—including health care and immigration—and also have been used to secure diplomatic objectives, including the Iranian nuclear agreement. And they will remain in force as long as whoever is president agrees with them or at least is not troubled enough by them to rescind them.
Cruz is that troubled. He has his differences with the actions on policy grounds, but his fundamental objection is constitutional. “Obama has intruded into the Article I authority of Congress to make the laws,” he says. Cruz is referring to Article I of the Constitution, which begins: ‘‘All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress.” And not, Cruz is quick to say, in the president.
Obama actually conceded this point in 2011 when he said that “doing things on my own . . . [is] not how our system works.” Cruz wants to deny legitimacy to the Obama precedent of unilateral lawmaking and establish through his own presidency a precedent for execution of the office that respects the lawmaking authority of Congress.
Cruz promises that as president he would “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” the president’s job as stated in Article II. Cruz says this clause admits of no exceptions so long as a law is constitutional: If a president disagrees with it on policy grounds, he must still see to its faithful execution—as Obama has at critical times failed to do, says the senator.
Cruz also wants Congress, which is granted only limited powers, to be more constitutionally disciplined when making law. In his campaign book, A Time for Truth, Cruz writes, “For far too long, Congress has passed legislation with no one in the Senate once asking what should be the preliminary question: Do we have the constitutional authority to enact this bill?” A Cruz administration would press that question when necessary, and if it found such authority lacking, the legislation might receive a presidential veto.