Another day, another larger-than-life claim...but is it true? Time for a major Fact Check. Stat.
“When somebody’s President of the United States, the authority is total,” President Donald Trump declared at a news briefing Monday. The issue? Whether he or the nation’s governors have the power to lift restrictions, put in place by states, to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The claim was immediately met with opposition and push back from both the Democrats and Republican parties.
“The federal government does not have absolute power,” retorted Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said that federal guidelines, “will be very influential. But the Constitution & common sense dictates these decisions be made at the state level.”
A law professor at George Washington University, Jonathan Turley, mentions, “Our constitutional system was forged during a period of grave unease over executive authority. After all, the nation had just broken away from the control of a tyrant.” If there is “one overriding principle” in the Constitution, it is to avoid the concentration of power.
Pres Trump stated that “When somebody is President of the United States, his authority is total.” The Constitution was written precisely the deny that particular claim. It also reserved to the states (& individuals) rights not expressly given to the federal government.— Jonathan Turley (@JonathanTurley) April 13, 2020
One instrument penned specifically to prevent the federal government from imposing “absolute authority” is the 10th Amendment.
What does the 10th Amendment say, and what does it mean?
(via USA Today): "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Turley said federalism, in which states are granted a large degree of autonomy, was one of the ways the framers sought to avoid authoritarianism. The other was to limit the possibility of "constitutional drift" – in which individual officials or branches of the federal government slowly expand their authority – by creating "clear structural limitations" on the powers of the federal government.
Describing the 10th Amendment as an “insurance policy” against what he calls “mission creep,” Turley mentions, “So when federal push comes to states’ shove, the states are supposed to prevail.”
So how does this apply to what the nation is facing during the pandemic?
While Turley says that federalism was not designed to combat a contagion, it is the “primary responsibility of the states to prepare for and to deal with pandemics.”
So there you have it.
Trump's claims of having absolute authority over when the states should or shouldn't open back up has already been answered -- and outlawed -- by the 10th Amendment.