White House staff have spent a year responding to citizen petitions on weighty matters such as religious freedom and peace in the Middle East down to matters such as legalizing pot an deporting Piers Morgan and state secession, as part of the “We the People” petition program.
The White House marked one year anniversary with the headline on its blog, “It’s Been One Year Since We Published the Source Code for We the People on GitHub.”
The actual impact of the petition on policy is questionable, but Obama administration officials are now duty bound answer things they’d might prefer not to – at least if a petition gets enough signatures.
To garner a response, a petition posted on “We the People” must reach 100,000 signatures within 30 days of posting, an adjustment made in January up from 25,000 signatures when the petitions were created in 2012. A petition must gain 150 signatures in a month to even remain on the site. All of the responses can be viewed here. Nearly every response on the site was from 2012, based on the signatures listed.
Among the more interesting to reach the new threshold this year, with 109,334 signatures, was the call to deport CNN host Piers Morgan, who is originally from Great Britain, over his anti-gun views. In a post, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “Let’s not let arguments over the Constitution’s Second Amendment violate the spirit of its First.”
The White House punted on the Electoral College when a petition to ditch it and directly elect presidents by popular vote gained 29,297 signatures.
“While supporters of the popular vote argue that the Electoral College gives a disproportionate amount of influence to smaller states, reforming this system also raises difficult questions,” wrote Tonya Robinson, special assistant to the president for justice and regulatory policy. “For example, others have argued that a national popular vote would create a similar problem, granting the largest cities and states a disproportionate amount of influence and drowning out the voices of voters in less populous states.”
It continues stating, “In any event, the President cannot address this issue alone,” because it requires a constitutional amendment. That’s something the petitioners quite possibly knew, but were asking the administration to advocate for an amendment.
A petition to repeal Obamacare because “it’s killing jobs in the country” received 64,655 signatures and got a predictable response from the White House, saying the law will “make health care more affordable and expand health insurance coverage to millions of Americans in a way that allows our nation’s businesses to continue to thrive.”
Among the most famous responses came to a petition that gained 34,435 signatures for the U.S. government to build a “Death Star,” the lethal space station in the movie Star Wars.
Paul Shawcross, chief of the science and space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, responded with three points: 1.)“The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it,” 2) “The Administration does not support blowing up planets,” and 3) “Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”