Even conservatives have a problem with Bush's "signing statements"

Mickey Edwards, former Congressman from Oklahoma, was a member of the House Republican leadership, national chair of the Conservative Union, and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation; for 11 years he taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he now teaches at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and he is a director of the Constitution Project. Pretty solid and conservative credentials, yes?

Here’s what Edwards has to say about Bush’s practice of attaching “signing statements” to bills – statements which, in effect, are instructions to federal agencies to disregard Congress’s mandate, which makes them different from “signing statements” used by any previous administration. Much better, from Bush’s POV, than a veto, which Congress would then at least get a chance to override. (Bush has also appended more “signing statements” to bills than all previous presidents combined.) Edwards notes both the Constitution Project and the American Bar Association have appointed “special bipartisan task forces” (Edwards is a member of both task forces) to look into the legality of all this.

If Bush can’t count on his political base, who can he count on to support this practice?

Then again – why does he have to care?

Even if his use of signing statements is illegal, is there any constitutional mechanism that can be used to thwart him? To make federal agencies toe the line drawn by Congress no matter what the president tells them?

Earlier thread on “signing statements.”

And another.

I don’t think attaching signing statements is illegal. However, they don’t carry legislative force. To the extent that the President has leeway to implement the statute via control of the bureaucracy I don’t see any problem with doing so via signing statements, so long as the force of the legislation is not diluted.

However, I would also have no problem if Congress were to declare that signing statements are officially not part of an Act (they aren’t already, but I’m not sure if Congress has made that clear or not.) In other words, the President can say whatever he wants about an Act but the only thing that’s officially registered with the archivist (or whoever keeps track of passed legislation,) is the text of the Act itself. Or they could allow signing statments if they want, its their legislation.

I don’t know anything about the signing statements, but I’ve got to say that that’s a very weak article.

  1. There is such a thing as a “signing statement” where I president makes note of what he thinks a law is about.
  2. Bush has written more of these than all other presidents.
  3. Congress can’t order around Federal agents.
  4. Thus, Bush is giving direct orders to the government to ignore laws!

Well…if those items could be connected better, that would be nice. But mostly just that if you’re going to say he’s using these to tell people to ignore the law, how hard is it to give an example? I’m doubting these are top secret texts that are handed to Federal agents and then self-destruct five minutes later.

Disclaimer: Not saying he isn’t doing just this. I’m just saying it’s a poorly written article.

There is nothing illegal in signing statments and they are probably even a good thing in that they demonstrate how the administration intends to execute laws (so that a clear intent to disobey the law could be overriden by Congress with a clear directive to enforce it).

Unfortunately, whern Congress does not have the fortitude or self-respect to insist on that action, it results in allowing the executive to simply place itself above the law.

Congress has a number of options open to it: refusal to fund favored executive projects until the executive begins to obey the law; lawsuits to compel compliance; ultimately, impeachment.

While there have been a few protests from Congress, (I believe Arlen Specter (R-PA) has actually talked about taking action), the current breed of us-against-them legislators and a basic cowardice among the same group means that the only way this will be addressed will be by the election of a new president with a belief in the Constitution (leaving us at the mercy of the next president who believes himself or herself to be above the Constitution, again).

I think the debate offered here is even weaker than the articles. Some conservatives don’t like signing statements. BFD. It’s not like we haven’t had this debate before. This is nothing new, and is not a conservative vs liberal thing. It’s a legislative branch vs executive branch power struggle-- something that goes on all the time. Bush is much more aggressive about his power to act independently of Congress than most other modern presidents. Wow, I hadn’t noticed…

Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

Because he still needs 2 more party-before-country Justices to make it stick.

More evidence, if any were needed, of your low regard for the Constitution that most of us somehow insist on taking seriously anyway.

See the above link:

Six months may be “nothing new” to you, but our republic goes back a couple of hundred years before that.

If one branch simply *ignores * the others, that’s more than the usual “power struggle”, and no, friend, it does NOT go on all the time.

No go read up on “Separation of Powers” and try again.

OK, I’m going to do this one time to correct the way you mischaracterized my post, but I’m not going to engage in a debate with you on this (because of the way you mischaracterized my post). If you want to say I’m chickening out, go and ahead and say it.

BFD that conservatives have problems with some signing statements.

“We” as in the folks who post in this forum. This thread is nothing more than Ooh Ooh, I read another article about signing statements. Nothing new is being offered in this debate.

Yes it is, and yes it does.

Don’t you fucking tell me what to read up on.

If we frame the debate in those terms, I think all the arguments, political as well as constitutional, are clearly on the side of Congress here. Anyone disagree?

What issue? There’s nothing wrong with signing statments per se, you have to look at each one individually. I’ve said the same thing many times that **tomndebb **said above. Bush is going to interpret the law his way whether there are signing statements or not. Isn’t it better that we know in advance what that interpreation is?

And, btw, lest anyone be misled by Elvis’ swipe at Scalia, he wasn’t so much arguing in favor of the signing statements as arguing against looking at politician’s statements outside the text of the law itself. The only sense that he gave them “equal weight” was to give neither any weight at all. He was pointing out that the court was picking and choosing which extra-textual soruces to look at.

The issue of whether a president actually has, or whether a president should have, the kind of authority Bush is asserting/demanding here; and if the answer is no, the issue of what we should or can do about it. Those are real issues. Just because Bush is intent on doing whatever he wants doesn’t mean this discussion is unimportant or moot.

I didn’t say it was unimportant-- I said we’ve had this discussion before. What distinguishes this thread from the other threads we’ve had on the same subject-- threads that you participated in? Everyone is just going to trot in the same arguments they did before. Has anything changed in the last few months other than the fact that you read some new article?

Well, that settles that, then. :rolleyes:

As long as you show a lack of appreciation of the basic issues involved, yes, you most certainly can expect to be told what they are. That’s how it works here.
Now, as to your last *several * (equally content-free) posts: If you have nothing new to say about the subject, and no openness to the possibility that there might be anything new anyone else could say, then why have you bothered even to open this thread? Why shit on everyone else who *does * think there’s something to discuss?

I think a respectable conservative figure like Edwards taking a critical position is a significant new development.

Only if he advances a new argument, which I can’t see that he does in the link from the OP. All I see are the same arguments advanced by other critics of the president. Am I wrong?

Interesting, are you attempting to demonstrate that not all conservatives agree with one another on political matters? If so, you’ve done an excellent job. Unfortunately this is something that is abundantly obvious to anyone who recognizes that the terms “liberal”, “conservative”, “moderate” etc don’t refer to monolithic blocks of people who think identically on all matters.

As for your final question, no I don’t think there is. That is why I’m not entirely sure that signing statements are necessary. Signing statements don’t carry any legislative force, they are just a statement of intent as far as I’m concerned. The constitution makes it clear that the President leads the executive and the he is responsible for implementing the laws passed by the legislature. Thus, I would think he could simply act in the manner he chooses without need for these “statements of intent.”

Obviously if a President uses the bureaucracy to go directly against the intent of the law, I think that President would be violating his constitutional duties. However, considering the way our laws are written, allowing the President some interpretive ability when implementing laws is pretty much impossible to avoid.

There’s no way to get a President to follow a law “precisely” because the legislators who write the laws won’t even be in full agreement about some of the specifics of their own law.

Okay, please someone clarify something for me once and for all: do the signing statements have any sort of REAL authority? That is, can the President ignore what Congress, or the law says, SIMPLY by attaching the signing statement, without consequence or any chance for anyone to argue (damn, I can’t remember the single word for that)?

Given that some people seem to be arguing here as if the answer were one way, and others the other, I’m really confused.

That’s for the SC to say and it has not yet issued a clear ruling.

Anonymous baseball umpire:

“Some is strikes, and some is balls, but until I calls ‘em, they ain’t nuttin’!”

I think the issue now is that conservatives in Congress or one the Supreme Court might agree ideologically with the President, but they do not want to be rendered irrelevant. They want the President to respect the power of the other branches of the government.

Part of this is probably personal pride. But in addition, these conservatives may be worried about preserving their current supremacy in the long-term. It would be ironic indeed if one of the legacies of the Bush administration would be to create an Imperial Presidency that was powerful enough to defy Congress and the Supreme Court - and Hillary Clinton or John Edwards ended up using that power to defy the decisions of a Republican Congress or a Roberts court.