Monday, July 24, 2006

Bush's Assault on the Constitution


Some may wonder what assault I'm referring to here. Is it the recent NSA wire tapping, which appears to have skirted normal Constitutional protections by holding up the "War on Terror" as a shield to hide behind? Or is it the Patriot Act, which many feel stretches the powers of the government too far into the rights and protections afforded the average American citizen? No,
none of these, I'm referring to Bush's use of "signing statements" which effectively allows him to gut any legislation that comes his way that he doesn't like. No need to veto a bill, simply append a signing statement to the bill in question and you can effectively eviscerate it, obviating any need at all for a veto. So while something of a big to do was made over the fact that Bush's recent veto of the stem cell bill was the first veto he has exercised in his five plus years in office, the fact is that he hasn't had to use a veto when he didn't like a particular bill, instead relying on signing statements which effectively did to the bill what a veto publicly does. You see as a rule no one really pays attention to signing statements, though I'd hazard to guess that this is no longer going to be the case after this administration's shenanigans.

This issue has been running around for some time. It first came to my attention back in May on Fresh Air, specifically Reporter Highlights Bush's Executive Decisions, which was an interview with Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe who happened to hit on what Bush was up to and wrote about it in the Globe. This in turn prompted Arlen Specter, Senator from PA, to call for hearings on the matter. In today's Times we find Legal Group Faults Bush for Ignoring Parts of Bills- the "legal group" in question was a group of lawyers put together by the American Bar Association. In the article Specter and Patrick Leahy, Senator from Vermont, are quoted as follows:

"At a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the chairman, Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said Mr. Bush seemed to think he could “cherry-pick the provisions he likes and exclude the ones he doesn’t like.” Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the committee, said the signing statements were “a diabolical device” to rewrite laws enacted by Congress."

The ABA had the following to say:

The American Bar Association said Sunday that President Bush was flouting the
Constitution and undermining the rule of law by claiming the power to disregard
selected provisions of bills that he signed.

In a comprehensive report, a bipartisan 11-member panel of the bar association said Mr. Bush had used such “signing statements” far more than his predecessors, raising constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions in more than 100 laws on the ground that they infringed on his prerogatives.

These broad assertions of presidential power amount to a “line-item veto” and improperly deprive Congress of the opportunity to override the veto, the panel said.

This is all part of a move by Bushies to "strengthen" the Presidency. The New Yorker ran an interesting article by Jane Mayer on this, and the man considered to be the eminence grise for the administration on this specific issue and who's otherwise specifically Cheney's chief of staff and legal advisor, David Addington. The article is The Hidden Power: The Legal Mind Behind the White House's War on Terror, and Mayer was also interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, David Addington and 'Hidden Power'.

I suppose that's far more reference material than most blogs should carry, but it's actually worth going through some of this to get the feel and, hopefully, the understanding that there are those in this administration who truly believe in some version of the Imperial Presidency, where the President gets to make whatever rules he feels like and Congress, and hence the American People, be damned.


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