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Obama vs. Taft

Obama vs. Taft

by William H. Benson

January 26, 2017

     Former President Barack Obama has lived and done a lot. He grew up mainly in Honolulu, but when a child, he lived in Indonesia for four years. He attended Occidental College in Los Angeles for two years, but then transferred to Columbia University in New York City for his final two years.

     After college, he moved to Chicago, and worked as a community organizer in the city’s South Side. A colleague at that time observed, “Chicago is his real birth place.” It was in Chicago that he began to build a life and catch a glimpse of his potential.

     Then, in 1988, he moved to Boston to attend Harvard’s prestigious law school. After he graduated in 1991, he returned to Chicago, and there he taught three classes of constitutional law at the University of Chicago’s law school each year for the next twelve years, from 1992 until 2004. He also won election to the Illinois Senate, and met and married Michelle Robinson.

     In 2004, he won election to the U. S. Senate and began to work in Washington D.C. In 2008, he won the presidential election, and he and Michelle and their two daughters, Malia and Sasha, moved into the White House, and there they lived for eight years, until noon on Friday, January 20.

     One wonders, “what he will do next?” Last August he turned fifty-five, fifteen years younger than the newest Oval Office occupant. Although Obama’s political views are left of center, he is bright, educated, skilled, and still young, too young to retire.

     The Economist reports that he is writing another book; that the family plans to remain in Washington D.C. until Sasha, the younger daughter, graduates from high school in 2019; and that Chicago is the site of his library and foundation.

     The Economist also reports that the capital’s rumor mill indicates that the former President “longs to spend more time in Hawaii—eating the icky shave ice which is a local delicacy, and body surfing with the daredevils on Sandy Beach.” There he will see more of his sister, Maya Soetero-Ng, and her husband and two daughters. Of her brother, Maya says, “He didn’t want the job to be his whole self. He is remarkably unchanged.”

     Looking at the trajectory of Obama’s life, the law may figure into his future plans, either as a law school lecturer, or as a law firm associate. “Also, he might feel obliged to intervene in politics more than he intended, given the Democratic Party’s denuded leadership and Mr. Trump’s agenda.”

     Barack Obama cannot run for President again, but he could run for the Senate, the House, or as a state’s governor. Also, I would not discount the potential of an appointment to a court.

     Only one former president has ever served as Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, William Howard Taft, the 27th President, who won the presidential election of 1908, one hundred years before Obama was first elected. Unlike Obama, who appeared to enjoy the job of President, Taft hated it.

     Of his campaign, Taft said, “one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life.” Long-time White House employee, Ike Hoover, said of Taft, “By temperament, Taft hated competitive politics and all that it involved; he loved the law and could conceive of no higher destiny than Chief Justice.”

     Taft ran a half-hearted campaign for President in 1912, and won only eight electoral votes. Relieved that he lost, Taft accepted a position as lecturer at Yale’s law school, his alma mater.

     Then, in 1920, the Republicans recaptured the White House when Warren G. Harding won the election. In 1921, President Harding appointed the 63-year-old William Howard Taft as Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, and he oversaw the court for the next nine years, until his passing in 1930.

     In 1926, Taft’s Supreme Court ruled in “Myers v. U. S.” that President Wilson did have the authority to terminate a postmaster, a federal appointee, without Senate approval. An 1876 Federal law stated that “Postmasters of the first, second, and third classes shall be appointed and may be removed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.”

     Chief Justice Taft argued that the Constitution mentions the president’s authority to appoint federal officials but is silent on their removal. Thus, Taft ruled that the 1876 Federal law was unconstitutional, that the President has the right to appoint and also terminate federal officials without Senate oversight. All Presidents since have lived in a world that Taft helped to created.

     Antonin Scalia passed away on February 13, 2016, after twenty-nine years on the bench, and President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. The Senate though refused to schedule a hearing for Garland’s nomination, and it expired once the 114th Congress terminated on January 13, 2017. It is certain that the new president will nominate another judge.

     Once again, “what will Barack Obama do next?” Return to the law, jump back into politics, build a business, or write essays and books? Although it is common practice to expect our former presidents to retire with grace and dignity, Barack Obama may choose another course.