Presidential Signing Statements
July 23, 2006 3:05 PM   Subscribe

"What does a bill mean when I sign it into law? Why, whatever I choose for it to mean, no more, no less." This isn't the way I learned this stuff on Schoolhouse Rock; I'm unsurprised Congress isn't pleased by 'signing statements', either. Even the Supreme Court isn't all that happy. No wonder he's only vetoed one bill in 6 years.
posted by baylink (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does anyone know whether these "signing statements" have any routine validity? I recall a couple of instances where the Supreme Court looked back on what was being said when the law was passed. But like this? Or refusing to implement a law passed by Congress? Seems very contrary to the Constitution to me.
posted by etaoin at 3:18 PM on July 23, 2006

Ultimately, Congress has two methods to enforce the laws if the executive doesn't abide by them -- 1 - to impeach the President -- 2 - to cut off the money.

The courts aren't going to be able to do anything to make the president obey the laws if Congress doesn't.
posted by empath at 3:21 PM on July 23, 2006

I can't wait to see what President Clinton does when she uses these.
posted by bardic at 3:29 PM on July 23, 2006

Of course it's contrary to the Constitution, but it's up to the judicial & legislative branches to provide those fabled "checks & balances" on the executive branch.

Going to be hard to do so, what with the loading that's been pushed over the last five or so years. There's very little "impartiality" on the judicial branch, and the legislative branch is packed with Congresscritters on the make, depending so much on the quid pro quo expected from lobbyists that cities & counties in their own constituencies have to buy lobbyists just to get their own Congresscritter to listen to them. Unless you've got money, and you can buy a SCOTUS ear, you don't have a snowball's chance in Niffelheim of changing this mess.

It's going to take a truly disastrous decision by Bush/Cheney to finish raising the hackles of SCOTUS or Congress - one that stands a very good chance of affecting their own bottom lines - and get something done "for the people."
posted by FormlessOne at 3:32 PM on July 23, 2006

This must be some strange new use of the word 'disastrous' with which I haven't been acquainted...

1/2 :-)
posted by baylink at 3:36 PM on July 23, 2006

FormlessOne writes "Unless you've got money, and you can buy a SCOTUS ear, you don't have a snowball's chance in Niffelheim of changing this mess."

Um...wrong underworld. Niflheim is a land of extreme cold, and a snowball would have more than a chance there.

That said, you're right. The people who are the government's real base of support (hint: they're the ones with the money) do not have a particular vested interest in stopping a technicality like "signing statements," especially since they help bills that push a lot of tax dollars back their way get signed, and there isn't really political pressure to stop the practice.

However, I would suggest that solving the problem of signing statements is a case of "treating the symptoms" in extremis. A government that can be bought and sold openly is going to throw problems at you faster than you can identify them, much less fix them.
posted by graymouser at 3:50 PM on July 23, 2006

'Curiouser and curiouser!' cried Alice.
posted by Unregistered User at 3:51 PM on July 23, 2006

Does anyone know whether these "signing statements" have any routine validity? I recall a couple of instances where the Supreme Court looked back on what was being said when the law was passed.

They'd be valid once bush packs the court with statists.
posted by delmoi at 3:54 PM on July 23, 2006

White House Letter: How Bush tries shaping new laws to his liking
Elisabeth Bumiller International Herald Tribune
posted by taosbat at 4:15 PM on July 23, 2006

I wonder what historians will think of Bush's work on executive power. I have a disconcerting memory from high school (the last time I formally studied US history) that the textbooks and historians we read tended to lionize the presidents who displayed "strength" and "ambition" and increased the power of the office, like Andrew Jackson for expanding the veto. IIRC our text was skeptical about whether FDR's economic policies actually helped solve the Great Depression but nonetheless lauded him for arrogating more power to the federal government and to himself.

I hope Bush doesn't receive similar treatment.
posted by grobstein at 4:25 PM on July 23, 2006

The State?I am the State.
posted by hortense at 4:30 PM on July 23, 2006

Rule of Law?
April 30, 2006 11:50 AM MST
posted by amberglow

Bush challenges hundreds of laws
President cites powers of his office
By Charlie Savage, [Boston] Globe Staff | April 30, 2006

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, 'whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty 'to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to 'execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Former administration officials contend that just because Bush reserves the right to disobey a law does not mean he is not enforcing it: In many cases, he is simply asserting his belief that a certain requirement encroaches on presidential power.

But with the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, in which he ignored a law requiring warrants to tap the phones of Americans, many legal specialists say Bush is hardly reluctant to bypass laws he believes he has the constitutional authority to override.

Far more than any predecessor, Bush has been aggressive about declaring his right to ignore vast swaths of laws -- many of which he says infringe on power he believes the Constitution assigns to him alone as the head of the executive branch or the commander in chief of the military.

Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts.

Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University law professor who has studied the executive power claims Bush made during his first term, said Bush and his legal team have spent the past five years quietly working to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House.

'There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government," Cooper said. 'This is really big, very expansive, and very significant."

For the first five years of Bush's presidency, his legal claims attracted little attention in Congress or the media. Then, twice in recent months, Bush drew scrutiny after challenging new laws: a torture ban and a requirement that he give detailed reports to Congress about how he is using the Patriot Act.Continued... [Registration required]

Media finally starting to report the President's systematic lawbreaking
Sunday, April 30, 2006
Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald

A Constitutional Crisis of Cheney’s Making?
By Christy Hardin Smith, Firedoglake
Sunday, May 28th, 2006

Bar group will review Bush's legal challenges
By Charlie Savage, [Boston] Globe Staff | June 4, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The board of governors of the American Bar Association voted unanimously yesterday to investigate whether President Bush has exceeded his constitutional authority in reserving the right to ignore more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office.

Meeting in New Orleans, the board of governors for the world's largest association of legal professionals approved the creation of an all-star legal panel with a number of members from both political parties.

They include a former federal appeals court chief judge, a former FBI director, and several prominent scholars -- to evaluate Bush's assertions that he has the power to ignore laws that conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Bush has appended statements to new laws when he signs them, noting which provisions he believes interfere with his powers.

Among the laws Bush has challenged are the ban on torturing detainees, oversight provisions in the USA Patriot Act, and ``whistle-blower" protections for federal employees.

The challenges also have included safeguards against political interference in taxpayer-funded research.

Bush has challenged more laws than all previous presidents combined.

The ABA's president, Michael Greco, said in an interview that he proposed the task force because he believes the scope and aggressiveness of Bush's signing statements may raise serious constitutional concerns. He said the ABA, which has more than 400,000 members, has a duty to speak out about such legal issues to the public, the courts, and Congress.

``The American Bar Association feels a very serious obligation to ensure that when there are legal issues that affect the American people, the ABA adopts a policy regarding such issues and then speaks out about it," Greco said. ``In this instance, the president's practice of attaching signing statements to laws squarely presents a constitutional issue about the separation of powers among the three branches."

The signing statements task force, which was recruited by Greco, a longtime Boston lawyer who served on former Governor William F. Weld's Judicial Nominating Council, includes several Republicans. Among them are Mickey Edwards , a former Oklahoma representative from 1977 to 1993, and Bruce Fein , a Justice Department official under President Reagan.

In interviews, several of the panel members said they were going into the project with an open mind, but they expressed concerns about Bush's actions.

``I think one of the most critical issues in the country right now is the extent to which the White House has tried to expand its powers and basically tried to cut the legislative branch out of its own constitutionally equal role, and the signing statements are a particularly egregious example of that," Edwards said. ``I've been doing a lot of speaking and writing about this, and when the ABA said they were looking to take a position on signing statements, I said that's serious because those people carry a lot of weight."Continued... [Registration required]
posted by taosbat at 4:38 PM on July 23, 2006 [2 favorites]

And you guys thought your founding fathers were sooo smart. How's that westminster system looking now?
posted by wilful at 4:42 PM on July 23, 2006

It's not just Bush...

Congres voted to support Israel even though their own polls showed 78% of Americans opposed

hahahahaha, it's not the hysterical laughter that bothers me it's the inability to stop.
Representative government? Who do these guys represent?
posted by Unregistered User at 5:18 PM on July 23, 2006

Congres voted to support Israel even though their own polls showed 78% of Americans opposed


Congress voted to support Israel even though 78% of the responses that received were negative.

I don't think I should need to say this, but: also, is utterly unaffiliated with the US Congress, hence the .org. The top-level web pages for the US Congress are and ( points to a Library of Congress search page).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:51 PM on July 23, 2006

L'etat c'est Bush.

(on preview, Hortense beat me to this, but not in the original French!)
posted by Aquaman at 5:58 PM on July 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

Good point, ROU_Xenophobe, and thanks.
I'm okay with being wrong as long as I Learn something...
posted by Unregistered User at 6:05 PM on July 23, 2006


However having said that , I have found that the Congress, House/ Senate etc. are about as dependable as Judy Miller and the NYT/WARPOST.
posted by Unregistered User at 6:12 PM on July 23, 2006

Thank you, taosbat. That was much politer than I've seen "[Previously]" done by some folks this month.

I'm a little rough on FPPing, having taken a 15,000 or so user hiatus, and I didn't search hard enough, apparently.
posted by baylink at 6:13 PM on July 23, 2006

Nothing against glenn greenwald, a fine blogger, but it's a little like shutting the barm door after the horse's have escaped isn't it?
posted by Unregistered User at 6:24 PM on July 23, 2006

Also, I heard interesting interview w/Mike Lerner this week that explains AIPAC influence. He's talked to lots of politicians all over the country. All said the same thing.

If i vote against AIPAC they will come after me, fund opposition, etc. But I pay no price from you (left-liberals) 'cuz I vote on things you care about most of the time. Until voting "against AIPAC" is The Bottom Line issue for liberals nothing will change.

How many Americans support WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA, etc? 15% maybe - and how many of them understand it? But elite makes sure no one who opposes it gets the money to run...

I hrd. about a decade ago that there's less turnover in xUS Congress than there was in Soviet Politburo.
posted by Unregistered User at 6:32 PM on July 23, 2006

Representative government? Who do these guys represent?

I believe that Fortune magazine publishes a list every year.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:50 PM on July 23, 2006 [3 favorites]

I have no problem with a signing statement that says the President reserves the right to enforce laws only when consistent with the Constitution.

Any law that is contrary to the US Constitution should not be enforced.
posted by tadellin at 7:45 PM on July 23, 2006

Any law that is contrary to the US Constitution should not be enforced.

The problem is not that a law contrary to the constitution shouldn't be enforced. Rather, its the Executive's interpretation of the constitution. That's not their job. That's what the Judicial branch is for.

And, if there really is concern about the contitutionality of the law, then why the heck would he sign it anyway?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:01 PM on July 23, 2006

You know, if the Executive and Judicial branches can so obviously be bought I wonder just how effect Buffet's donation to charity could have been utilized into forcing this gaggle of crooks to actually do something useful.

But that doesn't really solve the problem of having total whores running the country, though.
posted by Talanvor at 8:02 PM on July 23, 2006

Hey, baylink I wasn't calling this a double, just putting up related material. You're welcome.

Metafilter: it's a little like shutting the barm door after the horse's have escaped isn't it?


Well, God willing and the creek don't rise, some good will come of it.
posted by taosbat at 8:20 PM on July 23, 2006

Indeed. And nice references they were, taos.

Talanvor: are you a PJ O'Rourke fan? :-)
posted by baylink at 8:58 PM on July 23, 2006

There are no checks and balances when all three branches of government are being run by the same organization. I don't necessarily mean the GOP, or even the Christian Right. Though they're pieces of the puzzle.

"I believe that Fortune magazine publishes a list every year."

That's about the size of it, and many of those guys at least lend lip service to the aforementioned organizations. It's a complicated combination of organizations and corporate entities which are each pulling their own strings up in the rafters. Which strings do what to whom on the political stage below shall eternally be up for debate, but the point is the U.S. has been run by a corporate oligarchy parading itself as a democratic republic. It's been this way for a very long time. Wolves protecting the henhouse. White collar crime run rampant.

Only now is the media stepping in to report Shrub's misconduct? Deep Throat is dead and Bob Woodward's a wealthy fat cat in his own right. It's not gonna end the way it did in Nixon's time. The bad guys learned their lesson. Congress can't impeach the president if doing so would drag them all down with him. Those guys in DC have never represented me. I'm beginning to question myself why I still behave as if I'm pretending that they do.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:11 PM on July 23, 2006

Interestingly enough, Attorney General Abu Gonzales just wrapped up a speaking engagement at the ALEC's33rd Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Who is this ALEC you might ask?
Well, Source Watch has some info, Alecwatch has more, and this from Media Transparency:

Note: Media Transparency call's it "Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States"
"ALEC's goal is to ensure that these state legislators are so well informed, so well armed, that they can set the terms of the public policy debate, that they can change the agenda, that they can lead. This is the infrastructure that will reclaim the states for our movement."

ALEC has the financial support of more than 200 corporations including [Enron], Coors, Amway, IBM, Ford, philip Morris, Exxon, Texaco and Shell Oil. William Bennett, Jack Kemp, John Sununu, and George Bush have all addressed ALEC sessions in recent years.
posted by Unregistered User at 10:55 PM on July 23, 2006

I like the idea that government officials should wear uniforms with patches showing their sponsors, like NASCAR drivers. Sorta like this.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 7:45 AM on July 24, 2006

Enron, I was about to suggest tattoos, but I guess that would only work if they stayed bought once paid for...
posted by JaredSeth at 9:20 AM on July 24, 2006

That's why cattle ranchers use branding irons. Should work with Congresscritters, too. Anybody trying to rustle one of, say, Exxon's herd would be shot, of course.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:56 AM on July 24, 2006

Enron, I was about to suggest tattoos, but I guess that would only work if they stayed bought once paid for...

Isn't that the classic definition of an "honest politician"?
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:11 AM on July 25, 2006

Sen. Specter readies bill to sue Bush

We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will...authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on the Senate floor.

Specter's announcement came the same day that an American Bar Association task force concluded that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duty to either sign a bill, veto it, or take no action.

Bush has issued at least 750 signing statements during his presidency, reserving the right to revise, interpret or disregard laws on national security and constitutional

posted by taosbat at 8:22 AM on July 25, 2006

posted by taosbat at 8:22 AM on July 25, 2006

Lou Dobbs slams Bush on signing statements [video]
posted by taosbat at 8:39 AM on July 25, 2006

The Boston Globe
Specter takes step to halt Bush signing statements
Says Congress needs power to sue president

By Charlie Savage, Globe Staff | July 27, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter yesterday introduced legislation that would allow Congress to sue President Bush over his use of signing statements to claim the power to bypass laws, saying that lawmakers must push back against a White House power grab.


It was unclear, however, whether the political will exists in the GOP-controlled Congress to pass the bill in an election year. ABA president Michael Greco , a Boston lawyer, said yesterday that he hopes lawmakers will embrace the concept of putting a check on signing statements.
posted by taosbat at 7:02 AM on July 27, 2006

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