Monday, May 01, 2006

Commander in Thief

What's that they say about taking back what you've so generously given? Oh yeah, DON'T! It's one thing to take back a gift you've given, it's quite another to ceremoniously praise newly passed legislation and then gut it behind closed doors. According to a front page article in the Boston Globe on Sunday:
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.
He has done it using something called a "signing statement." It's basically a document published by the administration which provides the executive branch's interpretation of the legislation, normally regarding its application. It began under Reagan in the 80s, conceived, interestingly enough, by a young law clerk, Samuel Alito (yes, THAT Samuel Alito). The tradition continued under Bush I and throughout Clinton's two terms, but not nearly to the degree that Bush II has pushed it. In 5 years he has already published over 750 signing statements, compared to 232 for Bush I (in 4 years) and 140 for Clinton (in 8 years). Why the statements? It seems signing statements allows Bush to avoid a conflict with Congress through a veto. By law, Congress could override any presidential veto with a 2/3 majority, thus proving themselves more powerful than the President's veto. But by avoiding the veto, and thus the confrontation, Bush gets to "interpret" any new legislation. And just how has he interpreted it? As unconstitutional when it comes to what he perceives as encroachment on his powers.

Thus, while praising legislation on torture, civil liberties and congressional oversight in elaborate signing ceremonies at the White House, the President turns right around and essentially guts them. Just another day in the life of the Imperial Presidency.

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