How Bush Trumps the Constitution, Congress and the Courts

The New York Times today explores Bush's now infamous "signing statement" on the anti-Torture Amendment. It wasn't his first:

Mr. Bush has issued more than 100 of them, which scholars believe might be more than any other president. (Signing statements have been around since at least the administration of Andrew Jackson.) More significant, scholars say, Mr. Bush has greatly expanded the scope and character of the signing statement, even from the time of the Reagan administration.

Scholars say that many of Mr. Bush's most significant signing statements have been attached to national security and intelligence legislation and that he frequently uses them to assert that the administration regards requirements to turn over information as purely advisory.

For example, in signing the legislation that created the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush said that while the law established "new requirements for the executive branch to disclose sensitive information," he would interpret the law "in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to withhold information" for national security.

The legality of the statements hasn't been tested. But, there's little doubt how Judge Sam Alito views them:

Judge Alito, Mr. Kennedy pointed out, had in 1986, as a lawyer in the Reagan administration Justice Department, helped Edwin Meese III, then attorney general, develop a theory that signing statements could be used to advance the president's interpretation of legislation. Before then, the statements had largely been triumphal proclamations. Mr. Alito wrote at the time that the new signing statements would "increase the power of the executive to shape the law" even as they created resentment in Congress.

Sen. Kennedy got it right at Alito's confirmation hearing:

But Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts.... told Judge Alito at the hearings that Mr. Bush had in essence stated that "whatever the law of the land might be, whatever Congress might have written, the executive branch has the right to authorize torture without fear of judicial review."

[Graphic created exclusively for TalkLeft by CL.]

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    Re: How Bush Trumps the Constitution, Congress and (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 01:06:27 PM EST
    Didn't we already wage a revolution to free us from the monarchial whims of King George? Worse are the puppeteers pulling his strings. They aren't the mentally addled silver spoon that Dubya is. But they sure act like the WANT to be.

    Re: How Bush Trumps the Constitution, Congress and (none / 0) (#2)
    by Johnny on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 02:40:45 PM EST
    Sheez dadler, don't you feel safer? isn't the slow and steady erosion of the big 10 worth it?

    Re: How Bush Trumps the Constitution, Congress and (none / 0) (#3)
    by Sailor on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 03:00:24 PM EST
    `When I sign a law,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.' Ignoring the constitution, authorizing torture, kidnapping, and failing to follow the law of the land are all impeachable offenses. If we had a real congress he'd be in prison by now.

    I continue to remain astonished at the unabated drive to statism and "strong-man" rule that has been and currently continues to be advocated by "conservatives", especially those Republicans from a party that wholeheartedly endorsed the philosophy of Barry Goldwater, who - though promoting a strong military, was strongly opposed to extra-legal and extra-constitutional power grabs by the Executive, and was an adherent of Constitutional checks and balances. Since Reagan, all that has gone by the boards, and only fringe libertarians now hold out for real and factual "small government". Why? And why do defenders of an unchecked executive always cite "originalism" in their Constitutional arguments to promote such views? Are they that grossly unfamiliar with the deliberations leading to the final draft of the COnstitution, where an all-powerful executive was clearly feared and distrusted, thus the vesting of certain powers to Congress to check the President? What is with these pathetically dishonest "conservatives", anyway, and why are their views allowed to trump all others?

    Re: How Bush Trumps the Constitution, Congress and (none / 0) (#5)
    by roxtar on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 03:29:01 PM EST
    Because they have convinced the booboisie that Jeebus sits at their right hand, and that they are the only thing keeping Hillary Clinton from forcing their son to marry the boy next door at the point of a confiscated gun.

    I saw something at dKos that said Bush has actually issued over 500 signing statements. I'm trying to verify that number now.

    Re: How Bush Trumps the Constitution, Congress and (none / 0) (#7)
    by kdog on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 03:32:12 PM EST
    If we had a real congress he'd be in prison by now
    Or at least impeached.

    Stupid question - If the courts ignore these "signing statements" do they even matter? Hrm... If Dems in Congress started protesting these statements, do they have any leverage? Can they sue or can they legislate something to coerce Bush to comply with the law as they intended it? Or do they have to wait until there's some evidence that he hasn't followed the law as Congress intended and then initiate a suit?

    Leslie, As to the number of signing statements that Bush has made - I'd guess he makes a statement of some sort every time he signs a bill; the real task would be to dig into those statements and see which ones attempt to change the meaning of the bill he's signing.

    Re: How Bush Trumps the Constitution, Congress and (none / 0) (#10)
    by squeaky on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 04:44:08 PM EST
    leslie-The actual number of signing statements may be closer to 505 :
    George W. Bush issued 23 signing statements in 2001; 34 statements in 2002, raising 168 constitutional objections; 27 statements in 2003, raising 142 constitutional challenges, and 23 statements in 2004, raising 175 constitutional criticisms. In total, during his first term Bush raised a remarkable 505 constitutional challenges to various provisions of legislation that became law.
    from John Dean quoting Phillip Cooper "a leading expert on signing statements" from his 2002 book, By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action

    Re: How Bush Trumps the Constitution, Congress and (none / 0) (#11)
    by Che's Lounge on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 06:00:31 PM EST
    Yeah the guy fixing my tire confirmed the number at 505. "Signing Statements"? I'll go out on a limb here and guess that around 99.99999% of the population has never heard that term before a week ago.

    Re: How Bush Trumps the Constitution, Congress and (none / 0) (#12)
    by chemoelectric on Mon Jan 16, 2006 at 07:16:02 PM EST
    I occurred to me today that Bush is asserting that the Iraq resolution does for him what the Enabling Act did explicitly for Hitler. In Bushist language 'Commander in Chief' is simply a euphemism for dictator. The difference is that Bush is probably securing a dictatorship on behalf of his party, rather than himself forever.