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Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Signing Statement Hearing

by TChris

Now that public support for the president has weakened, Sen. Arlen Specter seems to have rediscovered one of the central tasks of the legislature: to act as a check against the executive by exercising oversight of presidential power.

''There is some need for some oversight by Congress to assert its authority here," Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said in an interview.

Some need? There's been a compelling need for half a decade. Where have you been, Senator?

Specter says the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings in July "into President Bush's assertion that he has the power to bypass more than 750 laws enacted over the past five years." We can predict that Attorney General Gonzales will haul out one of the administration's standard responses: the president's power to protect the nation (from whatever) is limitless, and his interpretations of the Constitution are more important than those of Congress or the courts.

Over the past five years, Bush has stated that he can defy any statute that conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. In many instances, Bush cited his role as head of the executive branch or as commander in chief to justify the exemption.

Bush made these claims in "signing statements," representing the president's take on laws he doesn't want to veto but doesn't want to follow. Justice Alito has signaled his willingness to give some weight to signing statements, while most legal scholars think the president's interpretation of a law has little to do with the law's meaning. Few believe that the president has the authority to decide that a bill he's signing into law is unconstitutional as applied to the executive. The president should veto a bill if he really believes it's unconsitutional (he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, after all), or he should let the courts decide. But that's not President Bush's style.

Bush is also the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, an act that gives public notice that he is rejecting a law and can be overridden by Congress. Instead, Bush has used signing statements to declare that he can bypass numerous provisions in new laws. ...

''The problem is that you have a statute, which Congress has passed, and then the signing statements negate that statute," Specter said. ''And there are more and more of them coming. If the president doesn't like something, he puts a signing statement on it."

Specter added: ''He put a signing statement on the Patriot Act. He put a signing statement on the torture issue. It's a very blatant encroachment on [Congress's constitutional] powers. If he doesn't like the bill, let him veto it."

Senator Feingold sums it up:

''Unfortunately, the president's signing statement on the Patriot Act is hardly the first time that he has shown a disrespect for the rule of law," Feingold said. ''The Boston Globe reported on Sunday that the president has used signing statements to reserve the right to break the law more than 750 times."

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  • Re: Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Signing Sta (none / 0) (#1)
    by scribe on Wed May 03, 2006 at 09:37:51 AM EST
    Well, I wonder whether newly-tough Arlen is going to be so tough as to require Gonzales to testify under oath this time. I suppose Abu Gonzo will find a way to tell the Senate that the Unitary Executive's limitless power and discretion mean he should just trust that they'd never mislead the Senate, so an oath isn't necessary. Funny, how Arlen grows a set a day after Financial Times picks up a paper by Cato on how Bush has violated his oath of office hundreds of times by his signing statements. Ever with his finger in the air....

    I would not argue a need for oversight of some sort, because lord knows we need some, but I wonder where exactly in the powers granted to Congress Senator Specter finds this authority. Checks and balances yes, but direct oversight of the executive branch by the legislative? Where does that power derive from?

    Re: Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Signing Sta (none / 0) (#3)
    by squeaky on Wed May 03, 2006 at 10:18:13 AM EST
    jp-
    I would not argue a need for oversight of some sort.....
    Your freudian slips are unarguably the best.

    Very good, Squeak. That should be "I would not argue against a need for oversight of some sort, because lord knows we need some." I believe the rest of the question still stands, however. Surely all you lovers of the living constitution argument can tell me where in the document this power of oversight is granted to Congress. I mean, we wouldn't want Congress to be claiming powers it doesn't have, would we? That would be so "Bushian".

    Re: Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Signing Sta (none / 0) (#5)
    by Sailor on Wed May 03, 2006 at 10:31:46 AM EST
    I wonder where exactly in the powers granted to Congress Senator Specter finds this authority.
    no one is above the law, and that's what bush is claiming when he crosses his fingers everytime he signs a bill. he can sign it, not sign it or veto it, but he can't say it means something different than congress' intent.

    Re: Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Signing Sta (none / 0) (#6)
    by scribe on Wed May 03, 2006 at 10:58:13 AM EST
    jp - As my dad was fond of saying: "I pay, I say." Congress writes the spending legislation and that, in and of itself, is enough power to give Congress - either house - full oversight into anything the Executive does. Second, and I'm belaboring, Congress writes the laws. If the President signs them, his oath requires him to "Faithfully execute" them, not ignore those parts he deems inconvenient. 7th grade civics class, ok? OT, my dad's aphorism was a strong incentive to getting a job, not that this then-teenager needed that.

    Re: Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Signing Sta (none / 0) (#7)
    by marty on Wed May 03, 2006 at 11:10:55 AM EST
    "Checks and balances yes, but direct oversight of the executive branch by the legislative? Where does that power derive from?" Uhh.....how about from "EXECUTIVE" branch?? Meaning, he executes the laws written by and approved by the LEGISLATIVE branch, not interprets them as to how they apply, which is the job of the JUDICIAL branch. But, since the boy-king was already quoted as saying that our government had an "administrative" branch, I guess it would be too much to expect that he (or some of his followers) would know this.

    In all fairness to Specter, I think he's been speaking up for some time now on various issues. He has had personal devastating medical problems to deal with while still serving in the Senate. I don't agree with his politics for the most part but do appreciate his integrity to stand up even against his own party, on some issues... ..compared to the other zombies on the right in congress and the senate..

    Re: Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Signing Sta (none / 0) (#9)
    by Dadler on Wed May 03, 2006 at 12:23:31 PM EST
    justpaul, if checks and balances aren't, in effect, pretty direct oversight, i don't know what to call them. the congress can override the president, the president can override the congress, and the judiciary can override both of them, as they can do to it as times. bush wants NO checks or balances on anything he does in relation to his psychologically addled and religiously extreme (on his part) view of post 9/11 America and it's "security".

    Re: Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Signing Sta (none / 0) (#10)
    by swingvote on Wed May 03, 2006 at 01:41:10 PM EST
    dadler, I agree with you that oversight is required, but please cite the relevant section of the Consitution which authorizes such oversight of the Executive by the Legislative, or, for that matter, specifies a system of checks and balances in our government. I'm not suggesting that such hearings are not desirable. I'm simply asking under what grant of power Specter proposes to act. I've read the Constitution, and I can't find one. The document lists a clear set of powers that Congress has, and oversight of the executive is not one of them. This reaching for powers, whether for good use or not, is the same kind of crap that Bush, Clinton, Bush Sr. and probably every other President since Washington has done. If it's wrong for Bush, which I imagine everyone here will say it is, then it's wrong for Congress as well.

    I agree with you that oversight is required, but please cite the relevant section of the Consitution which authorizes such oversight of the Executive by the Legislative, or, for that matter, specifies a system of checks and balances in our government.
    For crying out loud... It is rooted in caselaw. Look here under Investigations of Conduct of Executive Department.

    Re: Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Signing Sta (none / 0) (#12)
    by Dadler on Wed May 03, 2006 at 02:22:37 PM EST
    Justpaul, Congress can override a Presidential Veto, can vote to impeach the President, to name two instances when oversight is definite. As to the intent of the constitution in this area, I guess my best link would be to the marketing literature composed to sell the public on it, Federalist 51. May not be what you're looking for, but the intent seems clear. We didn't want a king, and oversight of the cheif executive is the only way to accomplish that plainly.