In the wake of the BP oil spill in 2010, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar attempted to impose an official moratorium on oil and gas drilling off the Gulf Coast. As justification for his policy, he offered up a government report that he claimed had the endorsement of several respected scientists.
As it turned out, this claim was a lie. The scientists came forward immediately to deny they had ever supported a blanket moratorium -- in fact, the idea had not even been presented to them for review. A federal judge subsequently blocked the moratorium on the grounds that it was scientifically unjustified. In defiance of that court order, Salazar simply reimposed the moratorium, leading the same judge to find him and the U.S. government in contempt of court in February 2011.
Salazar may soon face another contempt charge -- this time from Congress. If it goes that far, he would become the second Cabinet official ever to suffer this ignominy, the first being President Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder. Salazar has refused for three months now to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Natural Resources Committee, seeking information that would show how the Interior Department came to provide this fake science as if it were fact. The trail leads straight through the White House, where Obama administration officials edited the original report to give a more resounding endorsement to their desired moratorium. In a letter delivered Friday to Salazar, Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., also raised the disturbing possibility that the Interior Department's acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, may have misled the committee about her own involvement in producing the false moratorium report.
Salazar's disrespect for a court and the Congress are part of a larger pattern in the Obama administration. Recall Obama's egregiously inappropriate browbeating of the Supreme Court justices present at his 2010 State of the Union Address over their Citizens United decision. Consider also the rhetorical campaign that he and his political allies launched in advance, to delegitimize the Supreme Court when most analysts expected the justices to overturn Obamacare.
Then there is Obama's "We Can't Wait" campaign to bypass Congress's constitutional authority on matters of immigration, "kinetic military action" in Libya, educational standards and "recess" appointments that occurred when the Senate was actually in session. Along with Holder's refusal to provide the House Oversight Committee with crucial information about last year's cover-up of Operation Fast and Furious, these incidents suggest a presidential administration that believes itself above the Constitution.
Sadly, the U.S. Congress has been defanged by decades of executive usurpation by presidents of both parties. For this reason, Hastings must press this case to the limit, even if it means a second Obama Cabinet official must be found in contempt. Unless Congress pushes back as hard as possible, the Obama administration will continue to show contempt for the constitutional authority of the people's elected representatives.