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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

How a president's impulses keep running up against the law of the land

President Donald Trump is seen Nov. 20 outside

President Donald Trump is seen Nov. 20 outside the White House. Credit: AP / Carolyn Kaster

While discussing mass shootings with congressional leaders last March, President Donald Trump stunned fans and foes alike by suggesting that authorities seize firearms from potentially dangerous people without a court's approval.

“I like taking the guns early,” he said in the televised meeting. “To go to court [in a recent case] would have taken a long time.”

His words were easily forgotten, since they produced no action. But for a brief time, Trump's statement rattled gun-rights advocates who invoke the Second Amendment. In that episode, the Fourth Amendment came into question, with its bedrock wording about searches, seizures, warrants and probable cause.

Trump has also warned that Democrats would "take away your Second Amendment" even though elected officials can do no such thing unilaterally.

Several other Trump proposals, both casual and formal, have clashed if not with the Constitution then with widely accepted interpretations of it.

Presidents don't order prosecutions; grand juries do. Still, Trump pushed his aides or the Justice Department to go after critics Hillary Clinton and James Comey. The Fifth Amendment says: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury ..."

Before the midterm elections, Trump talked about issuing an executive order to nullify birthright citizenship. Trump said "you don't need a constitutional amendment" to do so. But as GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan among others pointed out, the 14th Amendment plainly states: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

So far Trump hasn’t issued the order.

Last month U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar temporarily blocked the administration from denying asylum to migrants who crossed the border without authorization because, Tigar said, the policy violated a "clear command" from Congress. Trump trashed Tigar as an "Obama judge" because he was nominated by President Barack Obama. In turn GOP-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts issued a rare reply, proclaiming the independence and integrity of federal judges.

Trump's appointees have raised Constitutional hackles on their own. In public statements that preceded his selection as acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker questioned the establishment of judicial review decided in the 1801 case Marbury v. Madison as well as the Supreme Court's upholding of New Deal legislation such as the Social Security Act.

Don’t expect tension to abate between Trump's expressed wishes and different parts of the nation's fundamental document.

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