White House Thanksgiving: Will the president’s turkey pardon start a wave of unauthorized poultry immigration?

Will the President’s Turkey Pardon Start a Wave of Unauthorized Poultry Immigration?

Will the President’s Turkey Pardon Start a Wave of Unauthorized Poultry Immigration?

Dubious and far-fetched ideas.
Nov. 26 2014 12:57 PM

Obama’s Thanksgiving Amnesty

Will the president’s turkey pardon start a wave of unauthorized poultry immigration?

Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters
This is how it begins.

Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

This week, President Obama will pardon a turkey in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. The Office of Legal Counsel has released a 4,000-page memorandum setting forth the constitutional and statutory justifications for this controversial executive action, rooted largely in the authority granted to him under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Eighth Amendment and also the Perdue Family Farms Charter. Moreover, as the OLC memo notes, presidents have been pardoning turkeys for decades. As the OLC opinion further indicates, the president’s constitutional authority to pardon turkeys may well date back all the way to the Lincoln administration, pursuant to President Lincoln’s son Tad pleading with his father to let the turkey destined for the family’s Christmas dinner live. Lincoln cheerily allowed the turkey to roam the White House, and the family feasted on a Tofurky in its stead.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus.

Obama’s Republican critics were quick to denounce presidential claims that the turkey pardon authority rests squarely within the enumerated powers of the executive branch. Sen. Ted Cruz published an op-ed in Politico titled “Obama Is Not a Monarch” in which he excoriated Obama’s plan to pardon the turkey as “lawless.” In it, Cruz posited that despite widespread popular resistance to turkey amnesty, “President Obama appears to be going forward. It is lawless. It is unconstitutional. He is defiant and angry at the American people. If he acts by executive diktat, President Obama will not be acting as a president, he will be acting as a monarch.”

Other Republicans pondered what might ensue if millions of turkeys were spontaneously granted amnesty. Some warned that a wave of unauthorized turkeys will soon flood the country, trailing illegal giblets and stuffing, and taking up space on supermarket shelves that should have been held by Americans.

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House Speaker John Boehner tweeted, “The president has said before that ‘he's not a king’ & he’s ‘not an emperor,’ but he sure is acting like one.” Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum called the turkey pardon “just another in a long line of power grabs by this administration.”

And Michele Bachmann, in a Nov. 20 email fundraising appeal for her PAC, charged President Obama with going far beyond giving lawless turkeys amnesty, affording them the actual rights and privileges of full citizenship: “What could more fundamentally transform our nation than making our precious American citizenship—and the rule of law—merely commodities to be dispensed with as our Imperial President sees fit, flooding our land with illegal turkeys which will forever alter our way of life?” Bachmann also added that the newly pardoned turkeys would soon be able to vote: “The Democrats are licking their wounds after their terrible defeats this month, and are viewing these millions of illegal turkeys as the delicious shock troops for their leftist agenda.”

Perhaps the most damning critique came from Sen. Tom Coburn, who warned on Capital Download that the lawless presidential turkey pardon could lead to widespread anarchy and violence. “The country’s going to go nuts, because they’re going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it’s going to be a very serious situation,” said. “You’re going to see—hopefully not—but you could see instances of anarchy. ... You could see violence.”

In the heat of the debate, amid threats of criminal sanctions, impeachment, and defunding the Department of Agriculture, conservatives pondered where this amnesty would end. “First you pardon a turkey, then you’re giving clemency to a sweet potato pie, and where does it end?” wondered Rush Limbaugh. “If the Congress had wanted turkeys pardoned, don’t you think they would have passed a law?”

“So go ahead and issue your pardon, Mr. President, but be prepared for the disastrous consequences of turkey amnesty,” Fox News’ Sean Hannity declared in a special Thanksgiving address. “Because when turkeys get the vote, this country won’t be called ‘America’ anymore. It will be called Turkey.”