Saturday, October 07, 2006

King George Subverts Congress

Bush issues more signing statements than all other Presidents combined.

In his endeavor to become King, George W. Bush has run rampant with the use of signing statements.
In a report in the Mercury News the American Bar Association tells us:
"From the inception of the republic until 2000, presidents produced fewer than 600 signing statements taking issue with the bills they signed. According to the most recent update, in his one-and-a-half terms so far, President George Walker Bush ... has produced more than 800."

These signing statements are being used to change the intent of the various bills submitted to Bush for his signature. These statements strive to interpret the bills or portions of them, to allow Bush to violate or fail to enforce any part he feels is unsuitable.

Signing Statements used as illegal Line Item Veto
In fact Bush seems to be trying to circumvent current Constitutional law by using these signing statements as a form of Line Item Veto.

John Dean, former White House Lawyer for Richard Nixon, had this to say about the issue:

“Bush is using signing statements like line item vetoes. Yet the Supreme Court has held the line item vetoes are unconstitutional. In 1988, in Clinton v. New York, the High Court said a president had to veto an entire law: Even Congress, with its Line Item Veto Act, could not permit him to veto provisions he might not like.

The Court held the Line Item Veto Act unconstitutional in that it violated the Constitution's Presentment Clause. That Clause says that after a bill has passed both Houses, but "before it become[s] a Law," it must be presented to the President, who "shall sign it" if he approves it, but "return it" - that is, veto the bill, in its entirety-- if he does not.

Following the Court's logic, and the spirit of the Presentment Clause, a president who finds part of a bill unconstitutional, ought to veto the entire bill -- not sign it with reservations in a way that attempts to effectively veto part (and only part) of the bill. Yet that is exactly what Bush is doing. The Presentment Clause makes clear that the veto power is to be used with respect to a bill in its entirety, not in part.
Bush's use of signing statements thus potentially brings him into conflict with his own Justice Department. The Justice Department is responsible for defending the constitutionality of laws enacted by Congress. What is going to happen when the question at issue is the constitutionality of a provision the President has declared unconstitutional in a signing statement?”

Other Legal experts agree
New York University law professor David Golove, specializing in executive power issues, states:

"It means that the administration does not feel bound to enforce many new laws which Congress has passed,"
"This raises profound rule of law concerns. Do we have a functioning code of federal laws?"

Secrecy News, a publication of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, brings us word of a report by the Congressional Research Service:

"It seems evident that the Bush signing statements are an integral part of the Administration's efforts to further its broad view of presidential prerogatives and to assert functional and determinative control over all elements of the executive decisionmaking process," the CRS study said.

"It appears that recent administrations, as made apparent by the voluminous challenges lodged by President George W. Bush, have employed these instruments in an attempt to leverage power and control away from Congress by establishing these broad assertions of authority as a constitutional norm."

"The broad and persistent nature of the claims of executive authority forwarded by President Bush appear designed to inure [i.e., to accustom] Congress, as well as others, to the belief that the President in fact possesses expansive and exclusive powers upon which the other branches may not intrude," the CRS report stated.

It follows that "the appropriate focus of congressional concern should center not on the issuance of signing statements themselves, but on the broad assertions of presidential authority forwarded by Presidents and the substantive actions taken to establish that authority."

In a Raw Story report from The Boston Globe, the CRS Report is further interpreted to show:

“The Bush administration is using signing statements as a means to slowly condition Congress into accepting the White House's broad conception of presidential power, which includes a presidential right to ignore laws he believes are unconstitutional”

Full Congressional Research Service Report in .PDF Format

Apologists Chime in
In a CBS report John Cornyn, R-Texas had this to say:

"The president is entitled to express his opinion. It's the courts that determine what the law is,"
"I don't know why the issue of presidents issuing signing statements is controversial at all."

And Justice Department lawyer Michelle Boardman had this opinion:

"Even if there is modest increase, let me just suggest that it be viewed in light of current events and Congress' response to those events,"
"The significance of legislation affecting national security has increased markedly since Sept. 11."

“A MODEST INCREASE....”? Bush = 800 compared to all the rest = less than 600? Modest??
Good Grief!!

Recent Examples of Bush Signing Statements
One recent example of Bush’s subversion of the will of Congress is presented by Edward Lazarus, former law clerk to Judge William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and to Associate Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the Supreme Court of the United States:

“A related recent development puts the point in sharp relief. Last month, to much public fanfare, the President brought John McCain into the White House to announce before the assembled cameras that he was going to drop his opposition to McCain's proposed legislation banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees by all U.S. personnel, anywhere in the world. But under the Administration's approach to executive power, this concession -- as well as Bush's subsequent signing of the ban on torture -- was all an elaborate charade.

After all, under the Administration's theory, Congress has absolutely no power to limit the president's inherent authority as commander in chief to fight the war on terror. Which means that Bush signed the McCain bill while reserving to himself the right to violate its anti-torture provisions with impunity - and, of course, to do so in secret, so that the American people will never know (barring another leak to the New York Times) that he has flouted this very popular law.

In fact, when signing the Defense appropriation bill containing the McCain Amendment, Bush issued a signing statement euphemistically reserving just this authority to ignore the very law to which he had just put his name. Thus, the President wrote: "The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

That signed statement shows, in microcosm, how the President sees the separation of powers: The President, in his view of the world, can interpret away constraints on his power, such as those in the McCain Amendment, or FISA before it. And the courts can hardly question his dubious "interpretations" even if they gut the very statutes they construe: After all, there are "constitutional limitations on the judicial power" - though not, apparently, on the power of the executive”

In the Raw Story report from The Boston Globe another example of a signing report is noted. This one involves the Military Budget bill passed just last week in a 100-0 vote:

“Last week, for example, Bush signed the 2007 military budget bill, but then issued a statement challenging 16 of its provisions.

The bill bars the Pentagon from using any intelligence that was collected illegally, including information about Americans that was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable government surveillance.

In Bush's signing statement, he suggested that he alone could decide whether the Pentagon could use such information. His signing statement instructed the military to view the law in light of ``the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief, including for the conduct of intelligence operations, and to supervise the unitary executive branch."

Bush also challenged three sections that require the Pentagon to notify Congress before diverting funds to new purposes, including top-secret activities or programs. Congress had already decided against funding. Bush said he was not bound to obey such statutes if he decided, as commander in chief, that withholding such information from Congress was necessary to protect security secrets.”

American Bar Association speaks against Bush's signing statements
In this report from the Mercury News we hear from the American Bar Association:

“A task force of the American Bar Association has concluded that the president's unprecedented stream of signing statements poses a dangerous challenge to the constitutional checks and balances central to power in the United States. One of the signing statements reserves the right to torture detainees held in the war on terror.

The ABA report, to be released Monday, calls on Congress to exert more oversight and empower the courts to review presidential signing statements asserting the president's right to "ignore or not enforce laws." If unchecked, ABA President Michael Greco said in a prepared statement, the presidential use of signing statements "raises serious concerns crucial to the survival of our democracy."

"The president does not, and the administration does not, refuse to carry out the laws that have been passed by Congress and signed into law by the president," said White House press secretary Tony Snow, maintaining that Bush is not engaging in any "civil disobedience."

"In the context of trying to preserve and protect and defend the Constitution ... there will be places within signing statements - caveats - where he has reservations," Snow said. "It is not unusual - although we have done it more than previous administrations - to list those reservations, if nothing else, as markers, for issues that may later rise to be points of controversy."

"It's clear that a large number of the signing statements that have been issued by this administration claim the authority to disregard the law," Sonnett said. "This president is not the first president to do that. But he clearly has escalated the practice to what the task force believes is a dangerous new high. That has an impact on the separation of powers, and if it's left unchecked, it could do damage to our system and to the Constitution."”

In conclusion it is time to call on Congress and the Judicial system to put a stop to Bush’s end run around Congress and the Constitution and hold him to the principles of balance of power and the laws of the land.

SEARCHABLE DATA BASE of all the Presidential Signing Statements from Hoover to current.

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