What Fresh Hell Is This?

July 24, 2006

ABA: The Constitution Is Not What The President Says It Is.

From today's Washington Post:
A panel of legal scholars and lawyers assembled by the American Bar Association is sharply criticizing the use of "signing statements" by President Bush that assert his right to ignore or not enforce laws passed by Congress.

In a report to be issued today, the ABA task force said that Bush has lodged more challenges to provisions of laws than all previous presidents combined.

The panel members described the development as a serious threat to the Constitution's system of checks and balances, and they urged Congress to pass legislation permitting court review of such statements.
The NYTimes has a somewhat harsher view:
The American Bar Association said Sunday that President Bush was flouting the Constitution and undermining the rule of law by claiming the power to disregard selected provisions of bills that he signed.

In a comprehensive report, a bipartisan 11-member panel of the bar association said Mr. Bush had used such “signing statements” far more than his predecessors, raising constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions in more than 100 laws on the ground that they infringed on his prerogatives.
Back to the Post:
Bush has vetoed only one bill since taking office, a bill approved by Congress last week relaxing his limits on federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. But he has on many occasions signed bills, then issued statements reserving the right not to enforce or execute parts of the new laws, on the grounds that they infringe on presidential authority or violate other constitutional provisions.

Perhaps the most prominent example was legislation last year banning cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners at U.S. detention centers. Bush signed the bill into law after a struggle with Congress, then followed it with an official statement indicating that he might waive the ban under his constitutional authority as commander in chief, if necessary to prevent a terrorist attack."
The Times has this to say as well:
The bar association panel said the use of signing statements in this way was “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.” From the dawn of the Republic, it said, presidents have generally understood that, in the words of George Washington, a president “must approve all the parts of a bill, or reject it in toto.”

If the president deems a bill unconstitutional, he can veto it, the panel said, but “signing statements should not be a substitute for a presidential veto.”
What does the Constitution say about all this?

Article II of the Constitution describes the duties of the Executive. In section 1 of that Article we find the oath of office:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
And in section 3 we read:
...he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed...
Once he signs a bill, it becomes a law, right?

Not in Bush's America - he gets to decide what laws to follow and how they'll be followed.

Remember this is the crowd that prides itself on a very close reading of the Constitution. Because the word "privacy"can't be found in it, for instance, Roe v Wade should be abolished because it was based on a "right" that doesn't explicitly exist in the Constitution. Because the phrase "separation of church and state" can't be found in it, that means that the Government is free to mix the two.

Where is the phrase "unitary executive" found in the Constitution? "Signing Statements"?

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