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June 28, 2006

Signing Statements

Signing statements issued by presidents have been around for a long time, indicating the how a president understands a particular piece of legislation and dictating how he will have his subordinates in the Executive Branch enforce a new law. President Bush has made great use of them, in an attempt to mold both current practice and future court decisions to conform with his view of the statute and the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the use of this power irritates ersatz Republican Arlen Specter (RINO-PA).

Senators on the Judiciary Committee accused President Bush of an "unprecedented" and "astonishing" power grab on Tuesday for making use of a device that gave him the authority to revise or ignore more than 750 laws enacted since he became president.

By using what are known as signing statements, memorandums issued with legislation as he signs it, the president has reserved the right to not enforce any laws he thinks violate the Constitution or national security, or that impair foreign relations.

A lawyer for the White House said that Mr. Bush was only doing his duty to uphold the Constitution. But Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, characterized the president's actions as a declaration that he "will do as he pleases," without regard to the laws passed by Congress.

So I guess that Specter wants the president to enforce laws he believes to be unconstitutional, thereby violating his oath to uphold that grand document? I suppose that also means that the senator wants the president to accept illegitimate restrictions on his constitutional authority passed by an over-reaching Congress, thereby forfeiting the Executive Branch's role as a co-equal branch of government.

I like the explanation put forward by the administration in support of the signing statements.

Michelle Boardman, a deputy assistant attorney general, said the statements were "not an abuse of power."

Rather, Ms. Boardman said, the president has the responsibility to make sure the Constitution is upheld. He uses signing statements, she argued, to "save" statutes from being found unconstitutional. And he reserves the right, she said, only to raise questions about a law "that could in some unknown future application" be declared unconstitutional.

"It is often not at all the situation that the president doesn't intend to enact the bill," Ms. Boardman said.

Now persoanlly, I would prefer that the president have made use of the veto pen in many of these cases -- but in doing so, he would have been forced to veto bills that were clearly in the national interest with minor provisions that extend too far. By giving creating an Executive history to go witht he Legislative history, it may be that the Judiciary will interpret such provisions in a manner that saves them from being found constitutionally infirm.





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