Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Guess What?: The Bush Administration Flouts the Constitution, Again

I got to catch Tom Ashbrook's On Point today, while traveling with Za to Baltimore. His guest was Michael Greco, the President of the American Bar Association (ABA), who just issued the following report that details President Bush's abuse of signing statements. Lots of other folks have already alerted us to this issue in the blogosphere, but I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about this today because I am convinced that the public needs to get educated on this issue.

We have lots of reasons to mistrust this adminstration. They have taken advantage of our fear and panic after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 to give a blank check of power to the executive branch of government: Patriot Act, Guantanamo, Illegal Wiretapping, and now, this latest revelation that Bush has used signing statements over 800 times during his tenure to ignore parts of bills that Congress had passed. Let me give you some background on what signing statements are and how they differ from Vetoes (as I understand it, please anyone more knowledgeable write in). The executive branch can use signing statements (this is not the only purpose, but the one at issue here) to say something like: "I will sign this bill into law, but I won't enforce this or that provision." A President can issue a signing statement if he or she believes that certain provisions of statutes are unconstitutional and thereby explain that the office won't enforce these provisions.

Ordinarily Presidents have used the veto to argue that a bill, which Congress has passed, is unconstitutional. Bush, however, has only issued one veto (over Stem Cell Research). One theory at work is that Bush prefers the signing statements over the veto because he can look like he is cooperating with Congress (by not using the veto), and yet use the signing statement to selectively enforce the law or interpret the law to his liking. This action, if indeed it is what Bush is engaged in, effectively makes his office above the law.

The ABA is calling upon the executive branch (which is different than attacking President Bush directly) to "confine any signing statements to his views regarding the meaning, purpose, and significance of bills, and to use his veto power if he believes that all or part of a bill is unconstitutional." That is, signing statements are appropriate in cases of ambigious language or ambigious meaning of the statute, or for rhetorical purposes, i.e., " this is a historic bill," but not to selectively enforce the law.

The reason the ABA is calling upon the executive branch to curtail this irresponsible use of signing statements is because it (a) sets up precedents to allow future presidents to encroach on the separation of powers and selectively enforce parts of bills, hence (b) it gives the executive branch too much power.

The American public needs to start waking up and take notice of what this administration has done to transform the executive branch far more into a monarchy and thereby ignore the distinctive importance of the Constitution. Perhaps some of you still believe this Commander-in-Chief is doing a good job (How, I don't know). But, even so, are you willing to trust any President? At what point is liberty more important than security?