Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bush Reserves Right To Disobey More Than 750 Laws

It is no secret that President Bush holds an expansive view of the powers of the presidency.

But the extent of his flagrant disregard for the nation's laws has never been cataloged to the extent that today's Boston Globe has managed to do.

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.

The genesis of Bush's power-grab lies in the post-Watergate experiences of Cheney and Rumsfeld in the Ford administration. These two chafed at the scrutiny of the White House by Congress and the Court, and vowed to push back against these institutions if they ever got the chance.

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...

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files "signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed...

But it was not until the mid-1980s, midway through the tenure of President Reagan, that it became common for the president to issue signing statements. The change came about after then-Attorney General Edwin Meese decided that signing statements could be used to increase the power of the president.

Under Meese's direction in 1986, a young Justice Department lawyer named Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a strategy memo about signing statements. It came to light in late 2005, after Bush named Alito to the Supreme Court...

On at least four occasions while Bush has been president, Congress has passed laws forbidding US troops from engaging in combat in Colombia, where the US military is advising the government in its struggle against narcotics-funded Marxist rebels.

After signing each bill, Bush declared in his signing statement that he did not have to obey any of the Colombia restrictions because he is commander in chief...

"This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy," Bruce Fein, a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration said. "There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn't doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power."

Bush has engineered a situation in which we get the worst combination possible.

A tilting of the balance of powers dramatically to the benefit of the most sociopathic Chief Executive we have had since Andrew Jackson.


Blogger Meatball One said...

These signing statements, to what extent are the exceptions inherited by the next president? Or do the exceptions disappear with the prez?

4/30/2006 10:51 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...


I would guess that they carry over to future presidents. Kind of like claims of executive privilege.

4/30/2006 3:04 PM  
Blogger Meatball One said...

I wanna know for sure and haven't found any guileful well of certainty. Is this the best you can do, Monsieur Oracle de Delphi?

4/30/2006 11:39 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


From a Heritage Foundation (ugh) paper.

One scholar has identified 24 different types of presidential directives, although even his list is incomplete. A partial list includes administrative orders; certificates; designations of officials; executive orders; general licenses; interpretations; letters on tariffs and international trade; military orders; various types of national security instruments (such as national security action memoranda, national security decision directives, national security directives, national security reviews, national security study memoranda, presidential review directives, and presidential decision directives); presidential announcements; presidential findings; presidential reorganization plans; presidential signing statements; and proclamations.

Since most--if not all--of these types of presidential directives stay in effect until expressly revoked, I would bet that the odious "signing statements" fall into the same category.

You are right about lack of info on this, I found nothing indicating the answer to the question in black and white terms.

It may be a constitutional question that has never been visited by the Court.

5/01/2006 8:23 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...


I found a nugget explaining the White House's view that these don't expire.

From a NAS transcript of a background briefing on executive orders--note the language--it appears to apply to signing statements too:

Q I just had a couple of quick ones. One is, do these duties, orders or directives expire? And the second question is, on one of the directives about ID, common ID standards, just wondering, is that -- does that come as a response to a threat that you've heard about? Is there an issue with -- I don't know, say, electricians or plumbers who are visiting some of these federal buildings potentially being recruiting by terror -- recruited by terrorists?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The -- okay, in the appropriate order, the -- let's say, the -- oh my God, now I forgot which order you --

Q Okay, the first part --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These do not -- these do not expire.

Q They don't expire.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They are signed by the President and they represent a policy statement of the administration. So they don't expire. And to change them, they would have to be amended, which could be done, but the President would have to sign a subsequent executive order amending them.

5/01/2006 8:35 AM  
Blogger Meatball One said...

Most excellent. Thankyou ever so much!

It will be interesting if any coming Dem Prez revokes or neutralizes any of GG's signing statements or if Prezzies to come find them in fact rather convenient to keep ticking.

5/02/2006 5:52 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Pas un problème. After you asked, I wanted to find out too.

I doubt any future president (Dems need not apply--due to electronic voting skullduggery) will revoke any of these orders.

They may not immediately abuse the inherent powers accorded by Bush's signing statements, but they will want to reserve the option.

5/02/2006 8:25 AM  

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