Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Signing Statement Nonsense

The Senate Judiciary Committee, the Associated Press, and our friends on the Left have worked themselves into a tizzy over the use of Presidential signing statements to indicate how the Bush administration intends to implement new laws:

Bush ignores laws he inks, vexing Congress
By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press Writer
50 minutes ago

The White House on Tuesday defended President Bush's prolific use of bill signing statements, saying they help him uphold the Constitution and defend the nation's security.

"There's this notion that the president is committing acts of civil disobedience, and he's not," said Bush's press secretary Tony Snow, speaking at the White House. "It's important for the president at least to express reservations about the constitutionality of certain provisions."

Snow spoke as Senate Judiciary Committe Chairman Arlen Specter opened hearings on Bush's use of bill signing statements saying he reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard a measure on national security and consitutional grounds. Such statements have accompanied some 750 statutes passsed by Congress — including a ban on the torture of detainees and the renewal of the Patriot Act.

"There is a sense that the president has taken signing statements far beyond the customary purview," Specter, R-Pa., said.

"It's a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution," he added. "I'm interested to hear from the administration just what research they've done to lead them to the conclusion that they can cherry-pick."

A Justice Department lawyer defended Bush's statements.

"Even if there is modest increase, let me just suggest that it be viewed in light of current events and Congress' response to those events," said Justice Department lawyer Michelle Boardman. "The significance of legislation affecting national security has increased markedly since Sept. 11."

"Congress has been more active, the president has been more active," she added. "The separation of powers is working when we have this kind of dispute."

Specter's hearing is about more than the statements. He's been compiling a list of White House practices he bluntly says could amount to abuse of executive power — from warrantless domestic wiretapping program to sending officials to hearings who refuse to answer lawmakers' questions.

But the session also concerns countering any influence Bush's signing statements may have on court decisions regarding the new laws. Courts can be expected to look to the legislature for intent, not the executive, said Sen. John Cornyn (news, bio, voting record), R-Texas., a former state judge.

...Specter isn't sure how much Congress can do to check the practice. "We may figure out a way to tie it to the confirmation process or budgetary matters," he said.

This is silly on many grounds and it exposes an area where Congress is trying to tell the President not to do what it does every time it passes a bill!

Go to Thomas, and look up any piece of legislation that has been approved by a Committee in the House or the Senate. That legislation will be accompanied by a Committee report, telling the President how Congress intends the legislation to be implemented. The report does not have the force of law, and the President must adhere to the statute - but this is an area where Congress tells the President how the law should be read and executed.

Well, why does Congress get to do that and not the President? A signing statement is nothing more than the President saying 'this is how I read this statute, this is why I think it comports (or conflicts with) other laws and the Constitution, and this is how I intend to implement it.' There's no substantive difference between that and the Congress providing a report that does the same thing - except that the President has the last word, since it is the Executive Branch that implements the laws. And if the implementation of the law is in conflict with other law or the Constitution, then the Executive Branch will be directed by a court to revise that implementation.

Take a look at the committee report for HR 3997 - the Financial Data Protection Act - and you'll find stuff like this:

`(3) CONTENT OF CONSUMER NOTICE- Any notice required to be provided by a consumer reporter to a consumer under subsection (f)(1), and any notice required in accordance with subsection (e)(2)(A), shall be provided in a standardized transmission or exclusively colored envelope, and shall include the following in a clear and conspicuous manner:

`(A) An appropriate heading or notice title.

`(B) A description of the nature and types of information and accounts as appropriate that were, or are reasonably believed to have been, subject to the breach of data security.

`(C) A statement identifying the party responsible, if known, that suffered the breach, including an explanation of the relationship of such party to the consumer.

`(D) If known, the date, or the best reasonable approximation of the period of time, on or within which sensitive financial personal information related to the consumer was, or is reasonably believed to have been, subject to a breach.

`(E) A general description of the actions taken by the consumer reporter to restore the security and confidentiality of the breached information.

`(F) A telephone number by which a consumer to whom the breached information relates may call free of charge to obtain additional information about how to respond to the breach.

`(G) With respect to notices involving sensitive financial identity information, a copy of the summary of rights of consumer victims of fraud or identity theft prepared by the Commission under section 609(d), as well as any additional appropriate information on how the consumer may--

`(i) obtain a copy of a consumer report free of charge in accordance with section 612;

`(ii) place a fraud alert in any file relating to the consumer at a consumer reporting agency under section 605A to discourage unauthorized use; and

`(iii) contact the Commission for more detailed information.

`(H) With respect to notices involving sensitive financial identity information, a prominent statement in accordance with subsection (h) that file monitoring will be made available to the consumer free of charge for a period of not less than six months, together with a telephone number for requesting such services, and may also include such additional contact information as a mailing address, e-mail, or Internet website address.

`(I) The approximate date the notice is being issued.

Not all of that material is in the statute - and the statute is what is binding. Does Congress have the exclusive right to tell the President what every provision of every statute means? Should the President veto bills on the grounds that he doesn't intend to enforce them in full compliance with everything mentioned by Congress in the committee reports (House, Senate, and conference committee), and in the House and Senate floor debates (where Members also try to impose instructions for implementation)? Why should the President be denied the power to provide his interpretation of the statute as well as Congress?

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