Beyond Lynch's vagueness about her beliefs regarding the limits of executive power, she also seemed to imply that she thought that the U.S. prohibition on illegal immigrants working violated their rights. The following exchange between Lynch and Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions is a revealing one (transcript via Hot Air):
SESSIONS:This viewpoint represents a radical departure from decades of immigration law. A key part of Reagan's 1986 amnesty was the trading of amnesty for new federal powers to punish employers who hired illegal immigrants.
Let me ask you this: In the workplace of America today when we have a high number of unemployed, we’ve had declining wages for many years, we have the lowest percentage of Americans working, who has more right to a job in this country? A lawful immigrant who’s here, a green-card holder or a citizen, or a person who entered the country unlawfully?
Well, Senator, I believe that the right and the obligation to work is one that’s shared by everyone in this country regardless of how they came here. And certainly, if someone here, regardless of status, I would prefer that they be participating in the workplace than not participating in the workplace....
As Politico reports, Lynch later tried to walk this statement back:
However, later in the day, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave her the opportunity to clarify her statement and she said she didn't mean to suggest that it's legal for everyone in the U.S. to be employed.But the words of an anonymous official at Justice are a poor substitute for Lynch's own.
"In my family as we grew up, we were all expected to try and find employment as part of becoming a responsible adult," Lynch said. "I was making a personal observation based on work ethics passed on by my family, not a legal observation."
Asked by Schumer whether immigrants have a right to work regardless of status, Lynch said: "No, there is not, to my knowledge.”
A Justice Department official told POLITICO that Lynch's original comments were intended to refer only to those authorized to seek employment and not to others.
"U.S. Attorney Lynch does not believe any right to work exists for those who have not been authorized to seek employment by the Department of Homeland Security, and she has aggressively prosecuted employers who have knowingly made illegal hires," said the official, who asked not to be named. "Sessions was asking whether citizens have an exclusive right to work in the U.S., and she was being mindful of the scores of categories of individuals who are eligible to work though they might not be citizens. But she certainly does not believe those who entered the country unlawfully and have no work permit whatsoever have any right to a job."
Some on the right, including John Hinderaker, have suggested that Lynch's remarks disqualify her from becoming AG. Whether one agrees with that judgement or not, it seems clear that senators have an obligation to continue to sound out her beliefs on executive power and the ability of the federal government to regulate employment. The principal officers of the Obama administration need to go on the record regarding their belief in and willingness to abide by constitutional norms.