Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lawyers to Prez: Knock It Off!

An American Bar Association task force has chided President Bush for thumbing his nose at the Constitution.

The ABA group, which includes a one-time FBI director and former federal appeals court judge, said the president has overstepped his authority in attaching so-called signing statements to hundreds of new laws stating that the president reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds.

Said ABA President Michael Greco:

This report raises serious concerns crucial to the survival of our democracy. If left unchecked, the president's practice does grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine, and the system of checks and balances that have sustained our democracy for more than two centuries.

More here. For the ABA task force report, go here. For the transcript of a floor speech by Sen. Arlen Specter proposing legislation under which Congress would force the issue into the Supreme Court, go here.

Philadelphia Inquirer political analyst Dick Polman notes at his American Debate that Bush did not invent the idea of the signing statement:

Young conservative legal eagles in the Reagan administration were among the first to recognize its possibilities. As one wrote in a 1986 memo, this use of the signing statement would “increase the power of the executive to shape the law.” Today, the author of that memo, Samuel Alito, sits on the U.S. Supreme Court. His presence could prove significant in the years ahead, as legal challenges to Bush's concept of executive power wend their way to the top.
Meanwhile, over at SCOTUSBlog Lyle Denniston analyzes the concept being advanced by the ABA task force and Specter that the signing statement mess needs judicial scrutiny.

Denniston concludes that:
Among the things that might have to be worked out . . . would be whether the Constitution would allow the courts -- even with congressional authorization -- to judge a presidential intention, whether the Constitution would ever allow the courts to command the president to exercise a veto, how to figure out what a president actually contemplated doing that needed to be prevented, when such a presidential plan would be thought to ripen into something that could be challenged (or whether the signing statement itself would be treated as a final action), and how to judge the supposed gap between presidential intepretation and "clear congressional intent." The task force report makes no effort to provide answers to such questions, contributing to an impression that the report was hastily prepared to get it done in advance of the ABA House of Delegates meeting.

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