Sunday, October 08, 2006

More on Bush's use of signing statements

Boston Globe: Bush signings called effort to expand power

President Bush's frequent use of signing statements to assert that he has the power to disobey newly enacted laws is ``an integral part" of his ``comprehensive strategy to strengthen and expand executive power" at the expense of the legislative branch, according to a report by the non partisan Congressional Research Service.

In a 27-page report written for lawmakers, the research service said the Bush administration is using signing statements as a means to slowly condition Congress into accepting the White House's broad conception of presidential power, which includes a presidential right to ignore laws he believes are unconstitutional.

Under most interpretations of the Constitution, the report said, some of the legal assertions in Bush's signing statements are dubious. For example, it said, the administration has suggested repeatedly that the president has exclusive authority over foreign affairs and has an absolute right to withhold information from Congress. Such assertions are ``generally unsupported by established legal principles," the report said.

Bush has used signing statements to challenge more than 800 laws that place limits or requirements on the executive branch, saying they intrude on his constitutional powers. By contrast, all previous presidents challenged a combined total of about 600 laws.

Extensive article on the topic from the Boston Globe

Examples of some of Bush's signing statements

NY Daily News: W sez he can tinker with privacy reports

President Bush, again defying Congress, insisted he has the power to alter the Homeland Security Department's reports about whether it obeys privacy rules while handling background checks, ID cards and watch lists.

In the law Bush signed Wednesday, Congress stated no one but the privacy officer could alter, delay or prohibit the mandatory annual report on agency activities that affect privacy, including complaints.

Bush Asserts Constitutional Right To Hire Incompetent People At FEMA

On Wednesday, the President signed “The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007.” In response to FEMA’s disastrous response to Katrina — led by the former Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, Michael Brown (a.k.a. Brownie) — Congress included some minimum professional requirements for FEMA’s director. From the bill:

2. QUALIFICATIONS.- The Administrator shall be appointed from among individuals who have-
A. a demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management and homeland security; and
B. not less than 5 years of executive leadership and management experience in the public or private sector.

President Bush, however, released a “signing statement” at the time he signed the bill. In it, he asserted his constitutional right to continue to install incompetent FEMA administrators. From the statement released by the President:

Section 503(c)(2) vests in the President authority to appoint the Administrator, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, but purports to limit the qualifications of the pool of persons from whom the President may select the appointee in a manner that rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office. The executive branch shall construe section 503(c)(2) in a manner consistent with the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.

It’s unclear how requiring someone to have five years of management experience and some knowledge of emergency management “rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified.” Georgetown Law School professor Marty Lederman noted, “It’s hard to imagine a more modest and reasonable congressional response to the Michael Brown fiasco,” he said.

From the recent
Congressional Research Service report on Presidential Signing Statements:

"The large bulk of the signing statements the Bush II Administration has issued to date do not apply particularized constitutional rationales to specific scenarios, nor do they contain explicit, measurable refusals to enforce a law. Instead, the statements make broad and largely hortatory assertions of executive authority that make it effectively impossible to ascertain what factors, if any, might lead to substantive constitutional or interpretive conflict in the implementation of an act. The often vague nature of these constitutional challenges, coupled with the pervasive manner in which they have been raised in numerous signing statements could thus be interpreted as an attempt by the Administration to systematically object to any perceived congressional encroachment, however slight, with the aim of inuring the other branches of government and the public to the validity of such objections and the attendant conception of presidential authority that will presumably follow from sustained exposure and acquiescence to such claims of power."

Earlier posts on signing statements


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