01 May 2006

Length = Gravity

Read this whole thing; it's important. I file it under another one of those things that makes me like Bush a little bit less every single day.

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ''execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Former administration officials contend that just because Bush reserves the right to disobey a law does not mean he is not enforcing it: In many cases, he is simply asserting his belief that a certain requirement encroaches on presidential power. But with the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, in which he ignored a law requiring warrants to tap the phones of Americans, many legal specialists say Bush is hardly reluctant to bypass laws he believes he has the constitutional authority to override.

This is nothing new, but it does seem to be of a very different flavor.

Under (former Attorney General Edwin) Meese's direction in 1986, a young Justice Department lawyer named Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a strategy memo about signing statements. It came to light in late 2005, after Bush named Alito to the Supreme Court. In the memo, Alito predicted that Congress would resent the president's attempt to grab some of its power by seizing ''the last word on questions of interpretation." He suggested that Reagan's legal team should ''concentrate on points of true ambiguity, rather than issuing interpretations that may seem to conflict with those of Congress."

This is a very valid story, even though, predictably, all the mitigating information is buried in the back:

Some administration defenders say that concerns about Bush's signing statements are overblown. Bush's signing statements, they say, should be seen as little more than political chest-thumping by administration lawyers who are dedicated to protecting presidential prerogatives. Defenders say the fact that Bush is reserving the right to disobey the laws does not necessarily mean he has gone on to disobey them.

Indeed, in some cases, the administration has ended up following laws that Bush said he could bypass. For example, citing his power to ''withhold information" in September 2002, Bush declared that he could ignore a law requiring the State Department to list the number of overseas deaths of US citizens in foreign countries. Nevertheless, the department has still put the list on its website.

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who until last year oversaw the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for the administration, said the statements do not change the law; they just let people know how the president is interpreting it. ''Nobody reads them," said Goldsmith. ''They have no significance. Nothing in the world changes by the publication of a signing statement. The statements merely serve as public notice about how the administration is interpreting the law. Criticism of this practice is surprising, since the usual complaint is that the administration is too secretive in its legal interpretations."

Many of the laws Bush has challenged involve national security, where it is almost impossible to verify what the government is doing. And since the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, many people have expressed alarm about his sweeping claims of the authority to violate laws.

In January . . . three Republicans who were the bill's principal sponsors in the Senate -- John McCain of Arizona, John Warner of Virginia, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- all publicly rebuked the president. "We believe the president understands Congress's intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees," McCain and Warner said in a joint statement. ''The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation."

Ultimately what I don't like about this is the failure of the administration to openly explain its goals for this practice, and how this is benefiting the American people, who are the boss here, and will take the authority away from those who misuse it.

Tip to Flamer for the story.

1 comment:

flamer said...

"and will take the authority away from those who misuse it."

I hope so.

Before it's too late.

Google "Niemoller"