Andrew Sullivan takes the time to look behind the velvet curtain and see what presidential signing statements, which are much in the news because of King, er . . . President George Bush’s fondness for them, are all about.
Andrew’s thoughts are online at Time magazine’s website, but here are some excerpts:
A somewhat legal law is a little like a somewhat pregnant woman. At first blush, it seems like an absurdity. But President Bush disagrees. In the past five years, quietly but systematically, he has been arguing that the law doesn't always apply to him. How has he done this? By attaching "signing statements" that spell out his own attitude to bills he signs.
. . . In five years, President Bush has already challenged up to 500 provisions, according to one tally--far, far more than any predecessor. But more important than the number under Bush has been the systematic use of the statements and the scope of their content, asserting a very broad legal loophole for the Executive. Last December, for example, after a year of debate, the President signed the McCain amendment into law. In the wake of Abu Ghraib, the amendment banned all "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of
military detainees. For months, the President threatened a veto. Then the Senate passed it 90 to 9. The House chimed in with a veto-proof majority. So Bush backed down, embraced McCain and signed it. The debate was over, right? That's how our democracy works, right? U.S.
Not according to this President. Although the meaning of the law was crystal clear and the Constitution says Congress has the exclusive power to "make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water," Bush demurred.
He issued a signing statement that read, "The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power."