Mr Bush & Impeachable Offenses of using Signing Statements

Mr Bush & Impeachable Offenses of using Signing Statements

On December 20th, President Bush signed a Congressional bill dealing with postal reform, but then issued a "signing statement" in which he claimed the right of government to open anyone’s private mail without a warrant or Bush_bill_signing judicial permission. A statement by a U.S. President about a bill being signed into law is not new. The first president to issue a statement about a law he was signing was James Monroe. A statement by the President about a new law has historically been one that pointed out defects he felt Congress should address or to give guidance to executive agencies in carrying out the law or simply to make political statements about the law. However, under the constitution, a President only has two options: veto a bill he does not agree with and return it to Congress or sign it into law. If he vetoes, it does not become law unless the veto is overridden by Congress. If he signs it, it becomes the law. The Constitution provides no other options. But Mr. Bush claims there is another option – to decide to ignore the law or interpret it as he pleases.

It wasn’t until about half way through the term of President Regan that he began using signing statements giving "interpretations" to a passed bill. He did so upon advice of Attorney General Edwin Meese. A staff attorney Samuel A. Alito, now a Justice on the Supreme Court, wrote a strategy memorandum on "interpretive signing statements" that became the legal model relied upon. The memo did point out that "Congress is likely to resent the fact that he President will get in the last word on questions of interpretation." However, President Regan did not claim the power to ignore or disobey any law he chose and which he signed into law. The presidents after Regan continued the practice of signing statements, but only by objecting to provisions or challenging the constitutionality or ambiguity of the law, but without claiming a right to disobey a bill they signed into law. Instead George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton vetoed bills they disagreed with rather then claiming power to disobey it through a signing statement after signing the bill.

But Mr. Bush doesn’t veto laws he disagrees with. In fact, Mr. Bush is the first President in modern history who has never once used his veto power which would give Congress the opportunity to overrule it. Instead, he just announces he won’t obey it. Not since Thomas Jefferson has any president stayed in office this long without vetoing a bill. Mr. Bush has cheerfully signed every bill Congress has passed and invites lawmakers to attending the signing while praising them for their work. After the photo op with lawmakers and handing out the signing pens, he later quietly issues a signing statement indicating his intention to disobey the law or ignore Congress’s intent in passing it.

In a record of more then 750 times, Mr. Bush has issued signing statements claiming the power to ignore or set aside any part or all of the law which he has signed without veto. This includes such essential rights as immigration, whistle blower protection, military rules, civil rights and more. Constitutional scholars reject this claim as totally contrary to our constitutional balance of power so important in America. They point out that the constitutional mandates that Congress writes the laws and the president is duty bound to see that the laws are faithfully executed. The famous case of Marbury vs Madison (1803) has been the defining line for presidential power. But Mr. Bush insists he has no duty to "execute" a law he disagrees with and claims to be unconstitutional. He merely claims that a law or some part of it will be ignored by his administration without exercising a veto.

He has used the device of a signing statement to ignore or refuse to obey a variety of laws including such things as provisions for affirmative action programs, restrictions on treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, requirements for humane treatment of detainees under the Geneva Conventions, warrantees wiretaps and a variety of whistle blower protections.

While the Republicans have been in power during the Bush administration there has been little or no attention given to Mr. Bush and his signing statements. There was a task force study by the American Bar Association consisting of a blue ribbon panel of legal scholars who reviewed the practice and issued a report. It strongly opposed the practice "as contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers. Senator Arlen Spector (R-Pa) introduced a bill, the Presidential Signing Statement Act of 2006, earlier this year which would instruct all courts to ignore such statements and authorize Congress to file suit to determine the constitutionality of the practice. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senators McCain of Arizona, Warner of Virginia and Graham of South Carolina publically rebuked the President for the practice. Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont accused Mr. Bush of trying to "cherry pick the laws he decides he wants to follow." One legal scholar said about the practice that it casts a cloud over "the whole idea that there is a rule of law" because only the President has the right to decide what laws will be obeyed and which laws will be ignored.

In the meantime, Mr. Bush continues to ignore the constitutional objections and continue the practice of making arbitrary personal decisions about what laws he will obey and what laws he won’t obey. His signing statement claiming the right to read our mail uses the same reasoning his signing statement claim the right to eavesdrop on private conversations without any legal authority to do so. Since much of the actions taken under his interpretation are secret or not public, there is little opportunity for court intervention and the Republican Congress has declined to do anything about it. The arrogance of the Bush, Cheney Rumsfeld trio supported by Machiavellian Karl Rove is unprecedented. If ever a president was deserving of impeachment for acts in office this president certainly qualifies.

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