President Assumes Arbitrary Power

By McManus, John F. | The New American, June 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

President Assumes Arbitrary Power


McManus, John F., The New American


The U.S. Constitution, that dusty old document many have heard of but don't know much about, creates three separate branches of government and establishes the powers each shall have. The legislative branch, the most important, is granted the sole power to make laws. The judicial branch is granted the least amount of power. And the executive branch is designed to be led by a president who is ordered to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." There is no law-making power given to the judges or to the president.

The Constitution also requires the president to swear an oath at his inauguration. In it, he solemnly pledges to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Not just some parts of it; all of it. One power given the president allows him to veto a bill passed by Congress if he sees a problem with it. But his veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress. So the president has a role in the legislative process, but only a very limited one. He can't make law, but he can try to block the making of bad law. Of particular interest today is the stunning realization that, in the more than five years President Bush has held office, he has never vetoed a single bill.

We bring this up because, instead of vetoing what he doesn't like, President Bush has regularly relied on a completely unconstitutional tactic. While approving a steady stream of measures passed by both houses of Congress, he has been adding carefully written "signing statements." In case after case, what he has done is place his interpretation on the newly created law, effectively rewriting it to suit his pleasure. As Miami (Ohio) University political science professor Christopher Kelley has stated: "He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises--and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened."

In a recent expose of this dramatic expansion of executive power, Boston Globe reporter Charles Savage wrote that Mr. Bush has added such signing statements to "more than one of every 10 bills he has signed." By doing so, he instructs the massive bureaucracy he leads not to follow congressional intent, but to follow his frequently contrary view of what the law seeks to accomplish.

Charles Savage pointed to numerous instances of this circumvention of the Constitution's certain limitations on executive power. Mr. Bush turned to signing statements when he didn't like congressional restrictions on such matters as the use of intelligence unlawfully gathered, requirements that the Justice Department obey new regulations regarding wiretapping, new rules dealing with the treatment of military prisoners in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and "whistle-blower" protections for federal employees. …

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