Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


How A Bill Becomes A Signing Statement

How A Bill Becomes A Signing Statement

By David Swanson

At the House Judiciary Committee hearings on Bush's use of signing statements on Wednesday, two exchanges at the end were quite revealing. Four hours into a hearing interrupted by several votes (thanks, Nancy!) the corporate media had all departed. Broadcast media never showed in the first place. Only a few bloggers and a bunch of citizens and staffers hung behind. Most of the Congress Members had left for good.

Through most of the hearing, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Elwood and Associate Professor of Law at Georgetown Nicholas Rosenkranz had maintained that Bush's signing statements were mere words and that Bush has obeyed to the letter each law he has signed, even if he's added a "signing statement" maintaining his right not to obey sections of that law. Elwood even claimed that if the President were to act contrary to the original law, he would notify Congress that he was doing so.

As the hearing drew to a close, Congressman Artur Davis began his questioning by pointing out that Bush's violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was a case in which the media, not the Bush Administration, had informed Congress of Bush's illegal activity.

Bush's spying in violation of FISA is something he has openly confessed to, engaged in for years, and continued to engage in on the basis of a signing statement following a Congressional ban. He's more recently claimed to have halted the illegal spying programs. Numerous other examples are available. The Bush Administration continues to engage in torture on the basis of a signing statement reversing a law and in violation of multiple laws and the U.S. Constitution. Bush continues to build permanent military bases in Iraq on the basis of a signing statement reversing a Congressional ban. Congress passed a bill requiring that by 2008 the Iraq War budget be part of the standard budget. Bush has already proposed an "emergency" supplemental bill for 2008, as well as the expected one for 2007.

But I digress. Davis asked whether it was Elwood's position that if the president thinks a law unconstitutional he should not follow it?

Elwood: yes.

Davis then said that Alabama had a Governor once who thought letting black people vote was unconstitutional. How, Davis asked, is that different from the president's position?

Elwood avoided an answer.

Davis asked again.

Elwood said that governors are subject to federal law.

Davis asked whether presidents are not subject to the law as well?

Elwood said only if the Supreme Court has ruled.

Davis asked why the President's interpretive power would exceed the Congress's.

Elwood hemmed and hawed.

So, there you have a position from an official representative of the Bush Administration testifying before Congress. This president believes that laws passed by Congress can be overturned by the president. Only after the Supreme Court has ruled on each point of law is the president obliged to obey and properly execute.

So, why have a Congress at all? Its sole function would seem to be the appointment and impeachment of Supreme Court justices. We should be able to at least cut back on its budget if that's all it has to do.

At the very end of the hearing, freshman Congress Member Keith Ellison proposed eliminating something else instead of Congress. If signing statements have no legal force or have dubious force, he asked, why not get rid of them? What purpose do they serve?

Rosenkranz replied that they importantly instruct the Congress in the president's interpretation of the law.

Ellison: Does the signing statement in any way alter the law?

Rosenkranz: No.

Ellison: So why not do a press release instead?

Rosenkranz: You could do that. Then we'd have a hearing on press releases.

Ellison: No, then we wouldn't worry about whether the president was following the law.

Ellison turned to Elwood and asked again: Why do we need signing statements?

Elwood replied that a press release would work as well.

Ellison said the president could also invite members to his office to talk about it. Ellison turned to former Congressman Mickey Edwards and asked again: Why not eliminate signing statements?

Edwards replied that what matters is whether the president can assert the power to rewrite laws.

Every Republican member of the committee who spoke during the hearing defended Bush's use of signing statements. Edwards said he was shocked by the number of people on the committee who could not get beyond their party affiliation. "The Constitution is beyond party. I'm really disturbed by this."


© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Julian Assange: A Thousand Days In Belmarsh
Julian Assange has now been in the maximum-security facilities of Belmarsh prison for over 1,000 days. On the occasion of his 1,000th day of imprisonment, campaigners, supporters and kindred spirits gathered to show their support, indignation and solidarity at this political detention most foul... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: The Mauling Of Novak Djokovic
Rarely can the treatment of a grand sporting figure by officialdom have caused such consternation. Novak Djokovic, the tennis World Number One, has always had a tendency to get under skin and constitution, creating a large following of admirers and detractors. But his current treatment by Australian authorities, and his subsequent detention as an unlawful arrival despite being granted a visa to participate in the Australian Open, had the hallmarks of oppression and incompetent vulgarity... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Voices Of Concern: Aussies For Assange’s Return

With Julian Assange now fighting the next stage of efforts to extradite him to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 of which are based on the brutal, archaic Espionage Act, some Australian politicians have found their voice. It might be said that a few have even found their conscience... More>>

Forbidden Parties: Boris Johnson’s Law On Illegal Covid Gatherings

It was meant to be time to reflect. The eager arms of a new pandemic were enfolding a society with asphyxiating, lethal effect. Public health authorities advocated various measures: social distancing, limited contact between family and friends, limited mobility. No grand booze-ups. No large parties. No bonking, except within dispensations of intimacy and various “bubble” arrangements. Certainly, no orgies... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Question Time Is Anything But
The focus placed on the first couple of Question Time exchanges between the new leader of the National Party and the Prime Minister will have seemed excessive to many but the most seasoned Parliamentary observers. Most people, especially those outside the Wellington beltway, imagine Question Time is exactly what it sounds... More>>

Gasbagging In Glasgow: COP26 And Phasing Down Coal

Words can provide sharp traps, fettering language and caging definitions. They can also speak to freedom of action and permissiveness. At COP26, that permissiveness was all the more present in the haggling ahead of what would become the Glasgow Climate Pact... More>>