Signing statements undermine rule of law
A group of legal scholars says the president can't choose which laws he will enforce.
THE American Bar Association isn't high on the Bush administration's most-admired list, so a report by an ABA task force challenging the president's claim that he can choose the laws he will -- and will not -- enforce isn't likely to change his conduct.
Congress, however, whose authority the president's actions usurp, should seek a court review of the so-called "signing statements" Bush issues when he ostensibly approves bills. The statements upset the balance of power among the branches of government and allow the administration to be the arbiter of constitutionality.
The report by a bipartisan ABA task force that included former Republican officials, legal scholars, a retired appeals court chief judge and a former FBI director criticized the signing statements as undermining the rule of law.
The group said its report is not an attack on Bush, but was prompted by the unusual "number and nature of the current president's signing statements."
Since taking office, Bush has taken issue with more than 800 provisions in more than 100 laws, contending that they infringe on his authority or violate the Constitution. Rather than veto bills he believes are flawed, he signs them, then declares in statements that he need not enforce them if he chooses not to.
Among the laws are ones that ban torture of prisoners at U.S. detention centers, and another that requires he notify Congress in detail about how the administration is using the Patriot Act.
The statements take from Congress its lawmaking role and from the courts their function in interpreting the Constitution. They act to expand presidential control and set aside the requirement that the president ensure laws are "faithfully executed."
The task force will present its recommendations at an ABA meeting next month in Hawaii, but even if delegates adopt them, the administration is not expected to alter course. It will take Congress and the public to get a different reaction.
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