Presidential Power Grab: President Bush Has Been Quietly Attaching Pronouncements to the Bills He Signs into Law. These Signing Statements Amount to a Grab for Legislative Power Belonging to Congress
Wolverton, Joe, II, The New American
Republican Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced on July 23 that within one week he would have a bill ready that authorizes Congress to sue President Bush in federal court. What could possibly persuade a prominent member of the president's own party to behave so boldly and initiate such unusual and headline-grabbing tactics? Signing statements. Never heard of them? Read on.
On January 20, 2001, George W. Bush placed his hand on the Bible and swore to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." On January 21, he forsook that oath. Since entering office, President Bush has issued documents called "presidential signing statements" with the intent of disintegrating the Constitution. For instance, when he signed the Intelligence Authorization Act, 2005, Bush attached a signing statement that said, in part:
Section 502 of the Act purports to place restrictions on use of the U.S. Armed Forces and other personnel in certain operations. The executive branch shall construe the restrictions in this section as advisory in nature, so that the provisions are consistent with the President's constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief, including for the conduct of intelligence operations, and to supervise the unitary executive branch. [Emphasis added.]
"Advisory in nature"? In essence, President Bush said that he simply intends to ignore the congressional legislation that he was signing into law--sent to him from our federal lawmaking body.
Defiance of Law
A presidential signing statement is a pronouncement that the president appends to a bill he signs into law. Nowadays, this executive addendum sets forth the president's understanding of the law and gives guidance to the myriad departments under the executive branch umbrella on how to carry out the requirements of the new legislation.
Signing statements change the laws, revoking parts of them or adding provisions to them, at the same time redefining the Constitution and nullifying its checks and balances. Using them, the president assumes all power--executive, legislative, and judicial--unto himself and does so in a manner that is beyond question, beyond debate, beyond vote, and beyond the reach of the American people.
If a president does not like a piece of legislation, the only recourse allowed him by the Constitution is a veto. It is telling that while President Bush habitually distorts the power delegated to him by the Constitution, in his nearly six years in office, he has vetoed only one piece of legislation--the stem-cell research bill. Until now, the president has successfully avoided attracting attention to his power-pilfering pronouncements, obviously so that he can duck public reaction--like reaction that might accompany a veto. Why risk public scrutiny that would accompany a veto when he can accomplish the same end by issuing a signing statement that will never be discussed? He sits quietly in the dark solitude of the Oval Office having his monarchical cake and eating it, too.
President Bush is being clever through so openly defying the law that almost no one even thinks to question his right to do so.
Bush has issued over 750 constitutional challenges in his 100-plus signing statements, yet the president never refers to them in public, the text is almost never included in stories about the new legislation, and studying them and understanding their threatening nature requires diligent study of the actual text of the law that the statement usually seeks to recast. Until a hearing took place in June on Capitol Hill about the dangers of signing statements, little was said about them. And media coverage has done little to illuminate their implications.
Despite the failings of the mainstream press, the Bush administration has felt enough heat from activist groups that it has been forced to defend the practice of issuing signing statements. …