Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Not All That Arcane

Akhil Reed Amar points out in his recent book, America's Constitution: A Biography, that the authors of the Constitution intended the President to exercise his interpretation of the Constitution by either signing or vetoing new legislation. President Bush has been signing bills into law and then issuing signing statements that relax their enforcement. This has led to hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Christian Science Monitor reports on the hearing.
But for Chairman Specter, who helped the White House move new powers under the USA Patriot Act through the Senate, the issue comes down to basic respect for balance of powers - and for the Congress. After personally negotiating with the White House over issues such as the Patriot Act and the torture ban, he questioned why objections would not have been raised at that time.

"Wouldn't it be better as a matter [of] comity for the president to come to the Congress and say: I want these exceptions in the bill," rather than asserting them in a presidential signing statement, Specter asked.

When the question was not answered to his satisfaction, he called for answers in writing. ("My office in the Justice Department is flooded," Ms. Boardman said. "It will take a week."

For Specter and some other Senate Republicans, what tipped the issue was the president's signing statement of the fiscal 2006 Defense authorization bill, which included a ban on torture that had passed the Senate by a wide margin. That statement claimed the right to make exceptions to that ban.

Pressing the issue, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts asked Boardman to provide a list of laws that President Bush has decided not to enforce.

"I cannot give you that list," Boardman said.

"No, then who can? Is there any way for the public to know the president has made a judgment that he is not going to enforce a law?" he asked.

[. . .]

"This administration has issued signing statements at an astonishing rate to express the view that it does not have to comply with the laws that Congress has passed," added Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, who has called for a censure of President Bush. "I believe that is dangerous to our system of government."

However arcane, the debate is "part of a much broader spectrum of issues that has to do with separation of powers," says Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

I don't see the debate as particularly arcane. If a President disagrees with legislation before it becomes law, for whatever reason, he should announce it and veto it. If a President signs a law, then it should be enforced. Hiding your intentions does not seem honest when it comes to enforcing the law.


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