Friday, October 06, 2006

Signing Statements

I hate how much I've been writing about politics lately. I'd rather be writing about the dogs, or my friends, or a review of more of the super-hero themed tv shows that are out. Whenever I write about what's going on in Washington I dread checking my e-mail for days, filled with trepidation about what will be waiting for me in comments. I don't like conflict, and if I had my druthers I'd be able to just ignore what's going on out there.

But I can't.

I don't fool myself that this little out-of-the-way humor blog, read by maybe 20 people a day, is going to have any kind of impact on anything. But I can't let what I see as a fundamental danger to the Constitution pass without comment and still look myself in the mirror every day (which would let me join the ranks of the millions of people, mostly women, who ALSO can't stand to look at me, though perhaps not for the same existential reasons).

Today I want to write about another tool John Yoo, Dick Cheney, and Alberto Gonzales have hijacked to further their view of the "Unitary Executive" -- Presidential signing statements.

In a nutshell, a signing statement is a declaration by the President about how he interprets the law he's about to sign. Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton all used signing statements much more aggressively than any President before, but Bush II has blown them all out of the water, doubling in four years the total Clinton signed in eight.

What's alarming about Bush II's signing statements is that he has often declared that he simply is not going to follow the law he's signing. It's as if he's saying "Yes, this is the law, but I'm going to ignore it. Nyah!" This has happened yet again today (emphasis mine):

President Bush, again defying Congress, says he has the power to edit the Homeland Security Department’s reports about whether it obeys privacy rules while handling background checks, ID cards and watchlists.

In the law Bush signed Wednesday, Congress stated no one but the privacy officer could alter, delay or prohibit the mandatory annual report on Homeland Security department activities that affect privacy, including complaints.

But Bush, in a signing statement attached to the agency’s 2007 spending bill, said he will interpret that section “in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch.”
Bush, for example, said he’d disregard a requirement that the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency must have at least five years experience and “demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management and homeland security.”

Since when was obeying the law optional, even for the President? I thought that the rule of law meant that no one, not even a King, was above the law, that it applied to all of us equally. Apparently the threat from the terrorists is so very great that even this quaint notion must be chucked out the window.

The Constitution (Article I, Section 7 -- the Presentment Clause) empowers the president to veto a law in its entirety, or to sign it. Article II, Section 3 requires that the executive "take care that the laws be faithfully executed". I'd say that issuing a statement declaring your intent to ignore a law would fail the "faithfully execute" portion of that document.

What frightens me about this Administration is not their basic positions on the issues (though I disagree with 90% of them). It's not that they're Republicans and I am a Democrat. It's not even that they're social conservatives and I am a social liberal. It's that they repeatedly exhibit a profound and deeply held contempt for the very document that defines what America is. Their goal -- plainly stated and beyond controversy -- is to make the executive branch the most powerful of the three, free from historical checks and balances. These signing statements are a crystal-clear example of this effort. They seek to shape legislation (the legislative branch's job) and to decide what is and is not constitutional (the judiciary's job).

What's even more alarming is that no one seems to care. The President says "I am above the rule of law, I refuse to obey this statute even though the Constitution says I am supposed to see that it is enforced," and it's barely worthy of a mention in the news.

Again, for my Republican readers, I would urge you to think about how you would react if Bill or Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Michael Moore, or whatever other evil baby-eating liberal you can think of were to do such a thing as President. You'd freak the hell out, is what you'd do, and I'd be right behind you. This level of contempt for the rule of law is, again, absolute poison to liberty.

For more on this subject, I found this FindLaw article to be very persuasive.


Allen said...

I find it odd that this president would be in favor of a so-called "Unitary Executive." As a Christian, shouldn't he be a "Trinitarian Executive?"

Just saying...

Jeff Hebert said...

Very funny, Allen! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Whenever any one party, whether they be Democrat, Republican, Libertarian or Communist, holds too much power, there is a shift in the power of the government that should not be there. Although I am a Republican, I find myself uneasy when Congress and the Senate and Executive Branch are all under the same banner. If there could be constructive debate and then a logical settling of the laws, all three branches should have equality in the laws. However, when one reigns for long periods of time, there is abuse, laziness and corruption. I am finding myself quite disgusted, however, with my brethren in the news media who seem to have more fun going on and on about text messages on a cell phone than the monstrous killings of innocent Amish girls because a deranged man thought he was "due" something in revenge. Add to that the other school shootings, and there is gut terror I have in my heart for this country. But when the public seems more enthralled with someone's sexual orientation than outright murder, there's a huge problem that will not go away any time soon. To me, that's the true terror out there. I cannot get the thoughts out of my head of those poor little girls and a sect of people whose mantra is peace, brotherhood and love. I suppose we'll now have to have armed security guards at Amish school houses. We are a doomed society if we proceed in this manner, and I have no idea where to start sorting things out. The Republicans might say "it all starts and ends in the home and keep government out of it," and the liberals might say "we need more government programs to help those in crisis." Whatever the answer, I pray, and I mean that sincerely, I pray we find it quickly. - Denise