President Barack Obama was annoyed.
That much was clear, as an angry heckler interrupted his November 2014 speech on immigration in Chicago, accusing him of not doing enough for immigrants.
"All right," Obama said, craning his neck to get a look at the heckler. “What you’re not paying attention to is, I just took an action to change the law."
Obama was talking about his executive action on immigration, a unilateral order to shield millions of immigrants in the country illegally from the threat of deportation. After a federal appeals court judge put a halt to the executive order in November, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case, and the president's words are likely to haunt him.
They should. Everyone with even a rudimentary education of American history and government knows the president doesn't and can't legislate. That limitation of powers lies at the heart of the three-pronged system of government that provides the checks and balances on power our Founding Fathers knew were so crucial to a healthy, fair government.
The president can't simply toss aside laws he doesn't like, but his executive order was tantamount to doing exactly that: Obama couldn't get Congress and the Senate to play ball on his ideas for immigration law reform, so with an eye toward his legacy he overreached and, like a monarch, simply declared a new law.
Obama's verbal slip-up in Chicago may have been aimed at calming an angry heckler, but the Supreme Court took notice, too. That's why, when agreeing to take the case, the justices took the unusual step of asking attorneys representing the White House and the states to weigh in on whether the president violated the Constitution's "take care clause."
The meaning of that clause, "traced back through hundreds of years of history and translated into today’s colloquial English is indeed a command: They mean 'Mr. President, don’t act like a king' -- administer the law, but don’t dispense with it or change it," Washington Post columnist Fred Barbash wrote.
Republicans have seized on Obama's faux pas, taking every opportunity to refer to him as a self-styled emperor or king. It doesn't help Obama that he essentially agreed with them before he made the decision to issue the executive order.
“This is something I’ve struggled with throughout my presidency,” Obama said at a Google event in 2013. “The problem is that I’m the president of the United States, I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.”
Or, as he flatly told Telemundo during a February 2013 interview about immigration reform: "I am not a king."
During the early and middle years of his term, Obama repeated variations on that phrase -- alternately telling people he's not a dictator, emperor or king -- so many times that states opposing the president's immigration executive order have plenty of testimony out of the president's own mouth to present to the Supreme Court. Obama has repeated the phrase at least 22 times in interviews and speeches, according to columnists keeping a tally.
Ultimately, Obama is wrong on both counts: He's wrong to ignore the will of the American people, selling out his constituents to curry favor with what Democrats see as a future voting bloc. And he's wrong on his assumed kingly powers, bypassing Congress and the Senate to proclaim new immigration laws.
For Democrats inclined to disagree, just think about the awful precedent it would set if the Supreme Court allows Obama to proclaim new laws. Imagine a President Donald Trump, dishing out new laws like he dishes out insults. Or a President Ted Cruz, unilaterally declaring that gay marriage is once again illegal.
Those aren't nightmare situations -- they're real possibilities if the Supreme Court doesn't do what's right and check presidential power when deciding the outcome of the immigration case.