Democrats & Liberals Archives

Follow the Signing Statements

Most Americans have this quaint notion that federal agencies should follow the law. When Congress passes a bill and it is then signed by the president, it is a law; if the law applies to what a federal agency is doing the agency is supposed to modify its actions accordingly. But this is not what is happening.

You see, our illustrious president does not merely sign bills. He issues signing statements when signing a bill. Oftentimes the signing statement says something opposite to what the bill states. What is a poor agency to do? Follow the law or follow the signing statements?

The Government Accountability Office just found out:

Federal agencies ignored 30 percent of the laws Bush objected to in signing statements last year, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office. In 2006, President Bush issued signing statements for 11 out of the 12 appropriations bills passed by Congress, claiming a right to bypass a total of 160 provisions in them.

In a sample set of 19 provisions, the GAO found that “10 provisions were executed as written, 6 were not, and 3 were not triggered and so there was no agency action to examine.”

We already have seen how the Justice Department no longer dispenses justice. This glorifying of signing statements is just another example how Bush is destroying our democratic form of government. Whatever Congress wants does not matter in the slightest to Bush. Stated another way, whatever the people want makes no difference to Bush. The only thing that matters to Bush is what Bush wants. He does not like a bill, so he writes signing statements to void it.

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about Republican leaders and Republican presidential candidates distancing themselves from Bush. But the distancing is primarily about the Iraq War. Is there a Republican leader that will denounce these signing statements? How about the stooges running the federal agencies? Will they continue disobeying the nation's laws? Are there decent Republicans around that will criticize the heads of these agencies?

Do Republicans believe in a nation of laws or a nation of signing statements? Edicts by King George? I know Republicans like to play "follow the leader." How far will they follow their leader? Over the cliff?

Are the Democrats ready to bring Bush and his agency heads to justice? We want our democratic America back!

Posted by Paul Siegel at June 19, 2007 7:19 PM
Comments
Comment #223499

Signing Statements must be outlawed and made grounds for impeachment by any president of the future. They are by definition extralegal, and nowhere countenenced by our Constitution. If tolerated, they destroy the balance and separation of powers of the co-equal branches of government, and open the door to very real authoritarian and dictatorial behaviors and actions by a president backed by the enormous weight and might of police and military power.

Signing statements are an extreme danger to the future of this nation and our democratic republic.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 19, 2007 7:32 PM
Comment #223547

just an FYI…

Clinton had more signing statements then Bush…

Posted by: cliff at June 20, 2007 8:44 AM
Comment #223550

Very interesting article from the Department of Justice written in 1993. If signing statements “are an extreme danger to the future of this nation and our democratic republic”, it’s amazing we’ve lasted this long…

Posted by: cliff at June 20, 2007 9:12 AM
Comment #223551

Cliff-
I don’t think you’re right. What’s more, I think you miss what the real problem here is.

Signing statements need not be anything more than PR. As it is, though, Bush’s have far exceeded that. Comparing Bush’s signing statements to Clintons is comparing apples and oranges. Clintons did not contain such wholesale reinterpretation and nullification, and nowhere did Clinton avail himself of the Unitary executive theory, claiming that the CINC powers of the president allowed him to nullify any laws telling him what to do with the military

David-
The statements themselves are not the danger. The dangers is that these will be given binding power. They are thoroughly unconstitutional, based on seriously flawed legal reasoning.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 20, 2007 9:15 AM
Comment #223553

Stephen,

Read the middle of the DOJ piece referenced above. The President’s signing statement can be challenged legally, but he appears to have the authority historically…

I’m not saying that signings should not be challenged, they should be…

Remember, this was written in 1993.

Posted by: cliff at June 20, 2007 9:26 AM
Comment #223554

Arlen Specter’s bill was a good approach, I thought. It instructed state and federal courts to ignore signing statements. It didn’t get to a vote. One hopes it or something similar will be re-introduced.

Posted by: Gerrold at June 20, 2007 10:21 AM
Comment #223557

Cliff, historical authority? Slavery had historical authority, too! It still didn’t comport with our Declaration of Independence or Constitution. Neither do signing statements. And no, you are wrong. NO president in history signed had more than 1,100 signing statements. That record was set by Pres. Bush.

But, Clinton’s and previous president’s signing statements were not Constitutional IF the signing statement clearly nullified legislation. The innocent purpose of signing statements was to clarify for Congress how the President intended to interpret ambiguity in a bill which the President was about to sign. This was supposed to alert Congress to revise the bill if the ambiguity was not going to be enacted as Congress intended DUE to the ambiguity.

This means first, that the signing statements were never intended to be a secret affair kept from Congress. Second, it means signing statements were never intended to permit the President to negate or ignore legislative language which was NOT ambiguous.

President Bush has clearly destroyed the value of signing statements, just as so often happens, a person abuses a privilege to the point that the privilege for ALL must be revoked because of egregious abuse by a few or one.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 20, 2007 10:55 AM
Comment #223575

Cliff-
The authority to do what? According to the law, line-item vetos are illegal at the federal level. It’s all or nothing. Bush can’t judge for himself whether a law is constitutional or not; that’s the province of the court. He can’t rewrite laws: that’s Congress’s job.

If I’m wrong, there should be some constitutional justification for what you’re saying. So far, you haven’t given it out.

If this isn’t constitutionally justified, then saying Clinton did it, or that there’s a justification for would be a moot point. Whoever did things this way before would be wrong.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 20, 2007 4:03 PM
Comment #223594

Conservatives just need to ask themselves these questions-
1. Why am I defending this abuse of the constitution by the President and His administration.
2. Why Am I so willing to give up liberty to this administration.
For any one to defend this action by this administration and then call themselves a conservative is mind boggling, is there no spine left in the conservative movement or is this abuse of the constitution a goal of the conservative movement?

Posted by: j2t2 at June 20, 2007 9:30 PM
Comment #223595

If the former Presidents used signing statements why then all the ragging on G.W. for doing the same thing his predecessors have done?

Posted by: KAP at June 20, 2007 9:37 PM
Comment #223598

I can’t understand why there is opposition to eliminating signing statements or at least stipulating their legal irrelevance. We have a Constitution; the president does not get to pick and choose the laws he will enforce, nor is he responsible for interpreting them. We have a Congress and a Judiciary for a reason. We are not always going to have a Republican president, you know. Would you on the Right like Hillary Clinton to have such power? This is such a no-brainer.

Posted by: Gerrold at June 20, 2007 9:52 PM
Comment #223600

If you all want to eliminate signing statements or have them eliminated, DO SO. But ragging on one man when he uses signing statements when his predicessors did the same thing is wrong. I don’t care if he’s democrat or republican if you don’t like the idea of signing statements voice your concerns to your local reps in congress.

Posted by: KAP at June 20, 2007 10:14 PM
Comment #223603

KAP, read my previous comment above. Previous president’s did not abuse signing statements to the extent this president has, causing the goundswell of concern over their use. There were legitimate uses of signing statements, but, now they have been so abused as to require their elimination or severe legal constraint of usage.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 20, 2007 10:41 PM
Comment #223605

David
What constitutes abuse? One president uses it more than another you call it abuse. If congress would have acted and eliminated the practice there would be NO ABUSE.

Posted by: KAP at June 20, 2007 11:08 PM
Comment #223612

This is a classic example of a tempest in a teapot.

It’s ridiculous to say that a president should be impeached for doing something which is their right to do simply because they’ve done it more often than other presidents. Each president has their own style, and love it our hate it, they have many tools at their disposal. Bush has hardly ever used the veto. Should subsequent presidents be impeached if they use it more frequently?

And anyway, a “signing statment” is not anything as signficant as a veto. A signing statment has no force of law and doesn’t actually change the law it pertains to. Subsequent presidents are in no way bound to follow a previous president’s signing statements. All a signing statment does is explain how a president, as the chief executive who is responsible for implementing laws, intends to interpret it.

All issuing one accomplishes is to explain what most presidents in the past have never even bothered to explain.

It would be incredibly naive to think that presidents who don’t issue signing statments are not interpreting and enforcing laws according to their own readings of the law. In fact, that’s exactly why we elect presidents—according to how they’ll interpret and carry out the law in comparison to others. Most just don’t bother to explain their intentions to the same degree as Bush has.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at June 21, 2007 1:01 AM
Comment #223632

KAP, your question indicates YOU DIDN’T read the previous comment. The answer you seek is there.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 21, 2007 9:18 AM
Comment #223633

Wow, Loyal, where to start.

1) It is not the President’s job to nterpret laws. That is the Supreme Court’s job. Doing so is overstepping the bounds of his office, which is the entire point of the thread.

2) Who mentioned impeachment here? All that should be done is the enactment of legislation to stop this particular abuse of power. Of course, added to other things…. ;-)

3) Comparing this to vetoes is beyond apples and oranges, this is apples and dump trucks. Presidential veto is a power of the office, using signing statements as a type of line-item veto is not.

4) The point is not whether signing statements change the law, nor if future presidents will have to abide by them. The point is that Dubya’s signing statement allow others to interpret the law as he wants it, not as Congress passed it.

What I’m trying to say is that maybe you should read the thread before posting, ‘kay? :-)

L

Posted by: leatherankh at June 21, 2007 9:21 AM
Comment #223634

Loyal Opp, by your argument, we don’t need the Supreme Court or judiciary, the President can interpret the law and Constitution as he/she deems appropriate for their needs.

Nice way to pave the way for an American Dictator. What a foolish and ignorant argument. A civics 101 class on the co-equal branches of government, their roles, and checks and balances upon each other would appear to be in order.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 21, 2007 9:22 AM
Comment #223645

Paul,
Another well written article. With His signing statement, the Occupant of the White House continues to tell our nation and the world that the rule of law is something that only other people must follow, not He or His Bushies.
As a student of history I would “bet the farm” that this Administration will go down in history as the worse and/or the most inaffective in all areas of governing.

Posted by: C.T.Rich at June 21, 2007 12:40 PM
Comment #223653

Leatherankh and David,

You’re failing to acknowledge that there is (or could ever be) any grey areas or outright differences between laws on the books and how they’re interpreted in practice. I sure hope that neither of you is a tax accountant.

To say that the president interprets the law, sometimes very selectively deciding which parts to enforce and which to overlook, is just to state a simple fact.

Take prosecuters by way of comparison. A prosecuter does not make the laws, but he picks and chooses when and how to enforce them, and in practice thus “interprets” them. There is no place in this country where EVERY single violation of every law is fully prosecuted. If you place your mailbox too close to the road, you’re far less likely to be punished for it than if you kidnap somebody.

The fact is that there are whole areas of law in this country which are never enforced at all, even if they should be (such as immigration and most copyright infringement cases). That’s why it matters who our prosecuters and presidents are and why law enforcement is not simply carried out by computers and robots.

This has nothing to do with the separation of powers, expecially when we’re talking about “signing statments” which do not have the force of law behind them, do not change the laws on the books (as a line-item veto would), can be overruled by the Supreme Court if they decide to do so, and which can be totally ignored by subsequent presidents.

A signing statment is nothing more and nothing less than a formal but completely non-binding and actually quite unnecessary explanation of what a president intends to do as he carries out the duties of his office. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with him, but you’re living in a fantasy world if you think that a president doesn’t do what all the rest of us also do—and that’s to interpret laws according to our own reading of them.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at June 21, 2007 1:41 PM
Comment #223654

Paul Siegel- It would appear that the Democrats
seem to want to continue along the path of
least resistance shown by their in activeness on
this an many other issues. The School systems,
local Government an right up to our President,
are completely out of control an few people are
attempting to enforce rules an regulations. I
believe we are like a freight train headed on
a collision course toward self destruction, unless we
all the stand up an demand all this crap stop.

Posted by: -DAVID- at June 21, 2007 2:26 PM
Comment #223656

L O - I would love to be in the Court Room and you
explain this same statement to the Judge, just
before he most definitely will sentence you. No
further explanation necessary.

Posted by: -DAVID- at June 21, 2007 2:37 PM
Comment #223657

Paul Siegel- It would appear that the Democrats
seem to want to continue along the path of
least resistance shown by their in activeness on
this an many other issues. The School systems,
local Government an right up to our President,
are completely out of control an few people are
attempting to enforce rules an regulations. I
believe we are like a freight train headed on
a collision course toward self destruction, unless we
all the stand up an demand all this crap stop.

Posted by: -DAVID- at June 21, 2007 2:40 PM
Comment #223660

^^
^^
^^
^^
Sorry about screw up
—-_—-

Posted by: -DAVID- at June 21, 2007 3:00 PM
Comment #223690

The topic of signing statements has been around for awhile,but I have yet to see the contents of one or any specifics.Makes hard to discuss this issue with no specifics.Does congress review these singning orders?Are they available for public review?If so where?

Posted by: frank at June 21, 2007 8:18 PM
Comment #223724

Frank-
One of my comments has a wikipedia link on the subject.

KAP-
Nobody used them like he has, With such frequency or open defiance of Congress in them. There is a qualitative and quantitative difference, so saying he’s just the same as Reagan or Clinton is unsound, given the circumstances.

LO-
You’re trying to rationalize what he’s doing as harmless and within his job. The American Bar Association, basically the lead organizaton of legal interpretors, lawyers, judges and others, has gathered, and decided his actions seriously overstep the bounds of his authority.

The basic defenses for what Bush does wrong is typically either “this is normal”, and “this is what everbody else has done.” The most disturbing thing about what the right has been doing is that it has progressively tried to justify and normalize behavior that is beyond the pale, typically to justify some gross error or abuse. The rhetoric is shameful, destroy integrity within the system

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 22, 2007 12:48 AM
Comment #223790

LO, again, your arguments fail. Prosecutor’s bring all the laws applicable to their case to bear on the case. They don’t pick and choose how to interpret, they are trained and hired to recognize which laws are applicable in prosecutions and to use them.

Man, you really are grasping at straws to try to defend this President aren’t you. Well, that’s good. In America, there should be two sides to everything even when one side is logically and rationally indisputable. If it were otherwise, the 1st Amendment would not be flexing its power.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 22, 2007 5:03 PM
Comment #223879

LO,

Okay, i will say it nice and slow. Dubya….is….ABUSING….signing….statements. You can define them until your fingers turn black and fall off, but that doesn’t change the fact that our Pres is NOT staying within the definition. He is using his influence as the president to allow his cronies to ignore sections of laws passed by Congress. He is not “interpreting”, he is changing the parts he doesn’t like. Explain how this isn’t abusing his power.

L

Posted by: Leatherankh at June 23, 2007 10:21 AM
Comment #224379

ya definitely and its wrong

Posted by: conservative news at June 29, 2007 7:58 AM
Comment #224507

About interpreting the law: The Executive Branch, from the President to agency employees, obviously and necessarily interprets the laws it implements and administers. For instance, the Clean Water Act prohibits discharging pollutants into “waters of the United States.” Those enforcing this law must determine what are such waters. Do they include wetlands? If so, what’s a wetland? Etc.
History of signing statements: As I understand it (and as noted in previous comments), through most of our history, Presidents have issued signing statements now and then largely for ceremonial purposes, e.g., to thank and congratulate the legislators who introduced the bill. Bush’s practice differs from that of previous Presidents in two respects - He has issued far more signing statements, and he has used them far more aggressively to stake out policy and legal positions.
Abuse: The Constitution gives the President a choice when Congress passes a bill - he can sign it, in which case it becomes the law, or he can veto it, in which case it does not become law, unless 2/3 of both the Senate and House vote for it, in which case it becomes the law. The Constitution obligates the President to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” It does not authorize him to rewrite the laws to his liking or execute only those parts he favors. This is particularly important because many laws embody compromises. If a President can sidestep the all-or-nothing choice afforded him by the Constitution and implement only those parts he likes, he can effectively undo the legislative compromises that led to the bill’s enactment.
Example: Here is a mercifully brief Bush signing statement: “Today, I have signed into law S. 203, the “National Heritage Areas Act of 2006.” The Act establishes national heritage areas and reduces the royalty rate on certain minerals. A number of provisions of the Act purport to give to management entities or local coordinating entities — composed of individuals who are not officers of the United States appointed in accordance with the Appointments Clause of the Constitution — significant governmental authority, such as authority to make grants from Federal appropriated funds to implement management plans for heritage areas. As is consistent with the Appointments Clause and with requirements in the Act concerning approval by the Secretary of the Interior of the management plans, the executive branch shall construe the provisions to require exercise by the Secretary of the Interior of the significant governmental authority given by the provisions, specifically including the exercise by the Secretary of final authority over any disbursement of Federal appropriated funds by a management entity or local coordinating entity.” Translation - Bush wants the establishment of national heritage areas and reduction of royalty rates on minerals and so signs the bill, but does not want to share with local entities the authority to make grants of federal funds, and so “interprets” Congress’s statements “purporting” to do that, not to do that.
Please pardon my longwindedness.

Posted by: doug indeap at June 30, 2007 5:53 PM
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