When Leandra English, former chief of staff to the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, asked a federal judge to block President Trump’s appointment of Mick Mulvaney to replace her departing boss Richard Cordray, and to install her as the CFPB’s rightful leader, Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., denied her request. Yet English’s legal team, rejecting the idea that President Trump held the directorship in his hands pursuant to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1988 and Article II of the Constitution, has since vowed to continue its resistance to the President’s action.
President Trump, whose reflex for pugnacity has its uses, threw a vicious and entirely fair constitutional body check when he named OMB Director Mick Mulvaney acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is exactly how constitutional conflicts are supposed to be resolved: power checking power.
President Trump’s executive order on healthcare received a great deal of attention, but almost all of it emphasized the order’s short-term policy implications. Commentary from the Left ignored the constitutional implications of unilateral executive action, so if anyone was going to speak up about those constitutional issues, conservatives would have to do so. Their record thus far has been mixed. The editors of National Review, like their liberal counterparts, addressed the policy angle, not the constitutional one. Yuval Levin, on the other hand, wrote in that same publication that officials in the administration in which he served (Bush II) doubted whether…
President Trump’s inability or unwillingness to lead on a legislative agenda has been cast as bad news for conservatism. But his weakness may trigger a renaissance of conservatism properly understood.
Relations with Russia may or may not be, as the President said, at an “all-time and very dangerous low”—the Cuban Missile Crisis called and wants its ominous superlatives back—but the good news is that constitutional conflict is at a recent high. Congress is acting as independently as it has in a long time, including periods of split partisan control.
The particular genius of Marbury v. Madison was John Marshall’s act of jujitsu. President Jefferson wanted William Marbury kept off the federal bench and let it be known he would defy any Supreme Court order to the contrary, so Marshall delivered that outcome while seizing the larger prize of judicial review. Two centuries on, President Jefferson’s successor Donald Trump is reduced not to defying the Court but rather to tweeting ruefully that the judiciary’s consideration of his travel ban is “slow and political.”
James Madison famously sketched an invisible-hand theory of institutional competition in The Federalist No. 51.
The first constitutional test of the new era will be answered less by Donald Trump than by Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.): namely, whether the congressional leadership delivers to the chief magistrate the news that Capitol Hill is not a subsidiary of the White House.