In July, Congress passed, in a near-unanimous vote, a law called the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which among other things imposes sanctions on Russia for their interference in the 2016 presidential election. But the Trump administration just announced that it is not implementing those sanctions, because they claim the law itself is enough of a deterrent without actually sanctioning anyone.

But my question is, what is the Trump administration's legal basis for not enforcing this law? The President cannot simply choose not to enforce a law. But does this law have a provision that allows the President to either delay or suspend its enforcement?

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    I'd Wager referencing Article II and Zivotofsky v. Kerry would set a good foundation for this answer. Does the legislature have the authority to dictate Executive policy. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 20:14
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    "The President cannot simply choose not to enforce a law." ... US immigration laws haven't changed over the past few years. The same immigration laws under Obama now exist under Trump. So why are so many people angry at Trump? The difference is enforcement. Of course a President can choose not to enforce a law. I can cite scores of examples. Oh, and don't forget this: youtube.com/watch?v=iUhykHLjT6M Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 22:36
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    @Michael_B Enforcement isn't the difference; Obama deported a lot of people. The difference is mainly Trumps racist rhetoric and his desire for new laws and regulations restricting legal immigration from non-white people. That's why people are angry. If you mean DACA specifically, it's true that it was implemented by executive action, but while there is some leeway in some cases, I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean that presidents can arbitrarily choose which laws to enforce and which to ignore. If you can back up the claim that presidents can ignore laws, that would likely make a good answer.
    – tim
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 9:13
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    @tim The president can't force the non-enforcement of laws, but he can encourage it. Obama for example issued a memo to deprioritize marijuana laws. constitutioncenter.org/blog/… Obama's memo didn't change the laws on the books, it only encouraged non-enforcement of those laws. Trump and Sessions can tell federal agents what to look for, and how to behave, but that's federal law enforcement within the US, carried out by government employees who take instructions. I don't think it applies to this question on Russia.
    – userLTK
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 12:57
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    "The President cannot simply choose not to enforce a law" Look up prosecutorial discretion. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 6:18

1 Answer 1

  1. As Drunk Cynic's comment noted, one of the main legal angles was constitutional, namely an assertion that the law as passed usurped Executive branch's Constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.

    Quoting Wikipedia:

    On the day President Donald Trump signed the bill into law, he issued two separate, simultaneous statements. In the statement meant for Congress he said: "While I favor tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior by Iran, North Korea, and Russia, this legislation is significantly flawed. In its haste to pass this legislation, the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions" — such as restrictions on executive branch′s authority that limited its flexibility in foreign policy.

    Among other things, the statement noted that the legislation ran foul of the Zivotofsky v. Kerry ruling of the Supreme Court. The president appeared to indicate that he might choose not to enforce certain provisions of the legislation: "My Administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress in these various provisions and will implement them in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations."

  2. Additionally, the law itself left wiggle room, under "SEC. 112. <> PRESIDENTIAL WAIVER AUTHORITY." and other numerous waivers (I don't think that's the one used, since this one requires case by case waivers and reports to congress).

There's also a boatload of National Security waivers but I don't think those were specifically invoked either.

  • I think this did involve a report to Congress, so it's possible that the waiver authority was invoked. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 21:11
  • No need to reference my name; was just trying to provide a drive for answers while lacking the time answer it myself. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 21:24

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