Sunday, August 23, 2009

Obama’s Signing Statements

While in office, former president George W. Bush issued around 700 so called signing statements.  These statements, first used regularly in the Regan administration, are written comments issued by a president at the time of signing a bill.  These statements usually take three forms.  First, they explain to those interested what the president and their administration thinks about the bill, and how the administration will react to the bill.  Second, signing statements are used by the president to guide those in the executive branch only about what he thinks the law entails.  Lastly, the president can describe when he thinks the law to be unconstitutional.  This last application is considered to be the most controversial. While campaigning, Barack Obama said he would use signing statements minimally; however, he has already issued five signing statement on various bills.

The third use of the signing statement is a way for the president to let his personal interpretation of the law become known.  It is not the president’s job to comment on the constitutionality of a law based on his personal opinion of the constitution, no matter how well educated on the subject he may be, considering Obama’s degree was in Constitutional Law.  Last time I checked, I am pretty sure it is the Supreme Court’s job.  While in office Bush used the signing statement to bypass laws in the Torture Ban and the joke of a bill, the USA Patriot Act.  A tool so misused in the Bush administration, presents Obama with a useful way to clearly explain the relevance of the bill.  However, allowing presidents to use a signing statement is giving them an easy way out. 

Rather than veto an imperfect bill, the president can issue a signing statement, pretty much saying my opinion has the last say in any bill I sign.  I propose the president not issue his opinion on the constitutionality, or in Mr. Bush’s case, grant himself unlimited power to completely ignore the bill in certain contexts, and instead veto the bill, or return it to Congress, until the two bodies of Government, the executive and the legislative are in agreement. If the question of constitutionality arises, the correct branch of government, the judiciary, can settle the issue.  That was, after all, what those grey haired guys had in mind when they wrote that oh so important document a few years back…