Bush is signing away our checks and balances
August 2, 2006
The Constitution gives a president two choices in considering a bill passed by Congress: Sign or veto it, and tell Congress why. But starting with James Monroe, presidents have issued statements about their opinions of some bills, indicating they would not enforce some provisions. This was infrequent until Ronald Reagan, when signing statements became a way to influence the way legislation was interpreted by the courts. The statements became a political tool.
Still, no previous president holds President Bush's record when it comes to presidential signing statements. He's issued 807 vs. the 600 by all of the other presidents. He has made an art of cherry-picking parts of bills he doesn't like and regally declaring after he signs the bills that he has the authority not to carry out certain parts of them.
"He is usurping the power of Congress," declares Neal Sonnett, chairman of an American Bar Association task force that examined the issue of presidential signing statements and recently released a report about them that will be discussed at the ABA meeting in early August. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, agrees. He is presenting a bill to "authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional."
Usually, presidential signing statements do not get much attention, but the catalyst was Bush's decision to ignore a 2005 bill stating that U.S. interrogators cannot torture prisoners or treat them inhumanely. Bush signed the bill but said as commander in chief he had the right to waive the law if it would aid in preventing terrorist activities. As Sonnett noted, it was as if he signed the bill "with his fingers crossed."
The Boston Globe examined Bush's signing statements and discovered he had "quietly claimed the authority to disobey" many laws passed by Congress, asserting "he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution." This included a host of legislation focusing on affirmative action, military issues, immigration, etc. A signing statement serves a purpose when it allows a president to sign a law of hundreds of provisions when he disagrees with only a few. Or, when a law is passed with a veto-proof majority, signing statements help establish the parameters of a court fight over the legislation.
ABA task force member Bruce Fein, who helped Specter draft the bill, says Bush is making "Swiss cheese out of our laws." The framers of the Constitution created checks and balances within government exactly to prevent this royal approach. If Bush disagrees with bills he should veto them. Plain and simple.
This represents the consensus of the Sun-Times News Group of 100 papers in metro Chicago.
Alleged fake cop is a real problem
When a fired suburban deputy police chief can turn up as the No. 2 official in the State Toll Highway Authority inspector general's office and no one seems to know how it happened, it's time to ask a basic question: If not clout, then what?
When that same man is allowed to quietly resign from the toll job after breaking the law by allegedly posing as a State Police commander to intervene in a friend's domestic violence situation, it's appropriate to suspect there's more going on here than a lucky break.
The fact is that the apparently illegal conduct by Anthony M. Martin Sr. was handled like a common-place personnel problem. Posing as a cop is a felony, yet Martin miraculously escaped prosecution. Worse yet, he allegedly pulled this hoax six weeks after the governor signed legislation toughening penalties for people who impersonate cops and firefighters. Had these details not come to light in a Sun-Times article, there's a chance Martin could have popped up on another taxpayer-funded payroll. After all, he has connections. His wife is Zelda Whittler, the Cook County undersheriff, and his brother is a now-retired deputy State Police director.
Voters could be forgiven for thinking this sounds like a case of the exercise of clout to try to put someone above the law.