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ABA Task Force Finds Recent Presidential ‘Signing Statements’ Bad for Democracy

A task force of the American Bar Association (ABA) released a report yesterday highly critical of recent presidential ‘signing statements’. These statements have been used in the past to comment on legislation, but in more recent history, and especially under President George W. Bush, the statements have been used to indicate that the president reserves the right not to enforce some provisions of a bill even as he signs the legislation into law. The ABA created the task force following a Boston Globe investigation, which concluded that 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.”

“The Task Force has determined that such presidential signing statements pose a fundamental threat to the far-reaching vision of our nations’ Founders, and that they clearly violate the Constitution,” said Michael Greco, president of the ABA, in his statement releasing the report yesterday. “In particular, they do grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine and the system of checks and balances, which have sustained our democracy for more than two centuries.” The task force report states that “[t]he president’s constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being, unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court … The Constitution is not what the president says it is.”

The bipartisan task force unanimously recommends that the ABA urge the President to veto bills if he believes all or part of the bill is unconstitutional; that Congress should pass legislation requiring the President to immediately submit all signing statements to Congress and to make them publicly available; and that Congress pass laws enabling judicial review of any instances in which the President claims authority to refuse to enforce legislation against the clear intent of Congress, among other recommendations. The recommendations will be presented to the ABA’s House of Delegates at its annual meeting in August.

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has already announced his intention to introduce legislation this week to give Congress the right to bring lawsuits against the President Bush’s signing statements, according to Reuters.

Sources:

ABA Task Force report 7/2006; Statement of Michael Greco 7/24/06; Boston Globe 4/30/06; Reuters 7/24/06