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Ominous Sign: The President's Growing Disregard for the Law
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial
Friday 20 January 2006
President Bush's latest tool for disrespecting the Constitution, Congress and the American people, used more than a hundred times so far, is the presidential signing statement.
That statement is normally a few words that a president says when he signs a bill passed by Congress. In the past it was an occasion for the president to congratulate legislators who had been particularly active in passing the bill and to praise the new legislation generously, even if he himself had been unsympathetic to it.
There is no mention of the statement in the Constitution, nor does it have any role in how laws are passed and put into effect.
Yet Mr. Bush has taken the presidential signing statement as another means of asserting his will over and above the country's laws, whatever they may say. In effect, he is trying to establish that whatever he says when he signs the bill overrides whatever the legislation itself may stipulate. Historians and presidential scholars, among others, find it alarming.
This is nothing new for Mr. Bush. He began disregarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 in 2002 when he authorized wiretapping of foreigners and Americans' telephone calls and e-mails by the National Security Agency without first obtaining a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The practice continues today.
His new use of the presidential signing statement turned up egregiously when after signing the bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain to ban the torture of prisoners in American custody, Mr. Bush issued a statement Dec. 30 that in effect said he would enforce the new law only as he saw fit.
We repeat - there is nothing in the Constitution that says he can do that. To the degree that the American system functions, Congress passes laws that put into effect the will of the people.
Mr. Bush's subversion of the process is particularly ironic since the laws passed by Congress that he chooses not to carry out are the product of a legislature controlled by his own political party. Unfortunately, that is also a prime reason that Congress is not in open revolt over the president's disregard for its work.
Everyone loses when a president chooses to carry out only the laws that he wants to, as he wants to. Fundamental governance of the United States through the rule of law is sabotaged by this practice. We'll see what happens when Mr. Bush's ability to do so is challenged by a court - assuming there will still be independent courts after he succeeds in stocking them with acquiescent appointees.
Mr. Bush's presidential signing statements are a practice designed to paint the Constitution, Congress and the American people into a shrinking corner. If Congress can't pass a law and expect the president to respect it, where exactly is this nation left?