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Another Reason I Voted For Obama: Signing Statements

March 9, 2009

Another promise that President Obama is keeping.

Calling into question the legitimacy of all the signing statements that former President George W. Bush used to challenge new laws, President Obama on Monday ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. before relying on any of them to bypass a statute.

“In exercising my responsibility to determine whether a provision of an enrolled bill is unconstitutional, I will act with caution and restraint, based only on interpretations of the Constitution that are well-founded,” Mr. Obama wrote in a memorandum to the heads of all departments and agencies in the executive branch. The document was obtained by The New York Times.

Mr. Obama’s directions marked the latest step in his administration’s effort to deal with a series of legal and policy disputes it inherited from the Bush administration. It came the same day that Mr. Obama lifted restrictions Mr. Bush had placed on federal financing for research that uses embryonic stem cells.

Mr. Bush’s use of signing statements — official legal documents issued by a president the day he signs bills into law, instructing executive officials how to implement the statutes — led to fierce controversy.

The way that President Bush abused signing statements is one that has confounded me for years.   In July of 2006 I wrote the following.

Over the past six years President Bush has added signing statements to hundred of bills that passed Congress, and as such Bush has stretched his authority and ushered in a real test of the American Constitution. In essence what Bush can do as a result of adding statements to bills he signs is to circumvent the will of Congress and disregard portions of laws he does not want to follow.  In fact, Bush does not even cite his legal reasoning for such actions in the statements. 

In the Bush era this is applauded behavior and even was discussed during the Supreme Court nominee hearings recently.  The idea of ‘unitary executive’ is one that certain strict constructionists like to throw around.  The idea that the President alone could supervise, direct and control the operations of the executive branch is bizarre and dangerous. In the theoretical arena it is fun to discuss, but in the hands of Bush and Company the dangers are all too real.  It should be noted that this broad based abuse would be just as dreadful if a President to my liking were in the White House.   

Other Presidents have used signing statements but never to the extent in either number or force that this former alcoholic and drug user has.  Bush has raised constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions of more than 100 laws.  In his first term alone he had 505 constitutional objections.  Scholars and constitutional lawyers have urged Congress to pass much need legislation to remedy this abuse and reign in this growing menace on our democracy. 


One Comment
  1. March 10, 2009 12:59 PM

    There should be no signing statements! PERIOD! Veto the bill if you disagree. Obama has reserved the “right”. No surprise. McCain’s position was better on this issue!

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