A.B.A. calls “signing statements” improper
July 26, 2006
An increasingly controversial aspect of George W. Bush’s administration has been his use of “signing statements” to announce his intent to disregard, whether in part or whole, laws passed by Congress that do not agree with his interpretation of the power of the Executive Branch. The American Bar Association (A.B.A.) on Sunday released a report condemning the administration’s extraordinary use of this power as “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.”
While past Presidents have exercised the same authority, only 600 such statements have been added to bills in the entire history of this country; President Bush has already included signing statements pertaining to over 800 provisions of more than 100 laws since he took office in January of 2001. A recent New York Times editorial sharply chastises the administration for this practice, accusing it of attempting to bolster the Executive’s power as part of the “unitary executive” theory promoted by top officials like Vice President Dick Cheney.
Another recent Times article suggests that President Bush has used signing statements in lieu of vetoing bills with which he disagrees. As I wrote recently, Mr. Bush issued the first veto of his administration in a showdown with Congress over federal funding for embryonic stem cell research programs. While the circumstances of that situation made a veto unavoidable, I firmly believe that, had Mr. Bush not abused the power inherent in his ability to issue signing statements, he would have been forced to veto a bill much sooner than he did; this, in turn, could have resulted in Congress voting to override the veto, perhaps changing the legislative landscape in significant ways. I sincerely hope that the A.B.A.’s report will spur action on this issue from Congress and from the public. War on terror or no, the doctrine of “separate but equal” must be maintained.
–D. S. W.