Specter Bill To Challenge Bush Signing Statements genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation


In a move that may signal a greater willingness on the part of Congress to challenge the continued expansion of executive authority that has been one of the hallmarks of the Bush administration, Senator Arlen Specter is about to introduce a bill that would allow Congress to use the courts to test the constitutionality of the signing statements used by the Bush administration to minimize the impact of legislation. While this would be an important and significant move to reign in the Bush administration, Senator Specter has a history of initiating such measures and then ultimately agreeing to terms that effectively neuter the effort. The full article can be found here.

"We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will ... authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of "signing statements" with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said on the Senate floor.

Specter's announcement came the day that an American Bar Association task force concluded that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duties to sign a bill, veto it or take no action.

Mr. Bush has issued at least 750 signing statements during his presidency, reserving the right to revise, interpret or disregard laws on national security and constitutional grounds.

"That nonveto hamstrings Congress because Congress cannot respond to a signing statement," said ABA president Michael Greco. The practice, he said, "is harming the separation of powers."

Specter's committee came up with the 750 figure for the number of statutes passed by Congress and signed with reservations by Mr. Bush. The ABA estimated Mr. Bush has issued signing statements on more than 800 statutes, more than all previous presidents combined.

The signing statements finally garnered significant media attention when the President attached one to the McCain anti-torture bill that Bush reluctantly signed. That particular statement basically asserted that the President retained the right to use torture methods if it were determined to be essential to national security. The American Chronicle has a good analysis of the practice of signing statements and the future implications here.

From American Chronicle:

On March 9, Law was enacted declaring the Justice department MUST give reports to Congress by certain dates on how the FBI is using the Patriot act to search homes and secretly seize papers. Bush signed the legislation but afterward,on his signing statement wrote, the president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he (Bush) decides it could impair national security of executive branch operations.

On Dec. 30, Congress said, When requested, scientific information "prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted (to congress) uncensored and without delay." Bush's statement: the president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he (Bush) decides its disclosures could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch.

Note the assertion in the signing statement that would allow the President to withhold information from Congress if he (Bush) decides the disclosure could impair "the workings of the executive branch". That statement is so broad that it virtually allows the executive full discretion with regard to disclosure. With regards to scientific information, the Bush administration has been accused of removing data about global warming and many administration critics fear that data about efforts to curb HIV through abstinence programs has also been misinterpreted. Thought Theater previously reported on the impact of abstinence only with regard to increasing infection rates in Uganda here.

More from American Chronicle:

Enactments by the Congress are presumed to be constitutional as the Department of Justice has so often stated. In a government brief extracted from the U.S. v Morrison, the statement "It is well established that Congressional legislation is entitled to a strong presumption of constitutionality," says it all. That makes Bush's use of statements come into direct confrontation with the Justice Department.

It is unbelievable that Bush thinks himself above the law and can ignore what he decides is unconstitutional and then think his signing statement will protect him when called on the action. There is a more serious long-term danger to be considered here that is being ignored by the administration, and that is defiance of Congressional lawmaking.

It is important to note that the only time the President has used a veto to object to legislation has been with regards to stem cell research. I'm convinced that this lone veto is significant and indicates that the administration likely realizes that the signing statements will be declared unconstitutional. With that belief, it was essential he veto the stem cell bill in order to preserve the position of those who seek to overturn Roe v. Wade and ultimately outlaw abortions. A signing statement on stem cells would have potentially jeopardized that position and allowed for the further institutionalization of the current definitional factors that form the basis for the legality of an abortion...that being that an embryo is not afforded the rights of a citizen and is not construed to be the point at which we define an entitlement to those rights.

There can be little doubt that this President is motivated to utilize any and all methods to push forward those issues and beliefs that he supports. I respect his convictions and support his right to seek the enactment of his agenda...but only within the existing constitutional frame work. Unfortunately, his actions may soon be determined to be the most egregious abuse of executive authority since Richard Nixon. I'm hopeful the actions of Arlen Specter are the beginning of that process.

Daniel DiRito | July 25, 2006 | 10:27 AM
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1 On July 25, 2006 at 2:15 PM, Jimi wrote —

Daniel said
Senator Specter has a history of initiating such measures and then ultimately agreeing to terms that effectively neuter the effort.
You nailed it in the first paragraph. The good Sen. Specter's record of holding out is worse than a balloon with a hole in it.
Thought Theater at Blogged

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