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April 30, 2006

My Hobbies Include Knitting And Writing Presidential Signing Statements

Read the new Boston Globe story about the 750 presidential "signing statements" Bush has issued while in office. Signing statements are assertions by a president that he doesn't have to obey laws passed by Congress. Among the laws Bush says he can ignore are:

• a ban on US "advisory" troops in Colombia engaging in combat
• requirements that he tell Congress before diverting appropriated money to other, secret uses
• protections for federal whistleblowers
• ...and much, much more!

But the best part of the article is this defense of Bush:

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..."

Uh huh.

"You have to understand," Goldsmith continued, "the reason we did this 750 times is precisely because it has no significance whatsoever. It says that right in the job description: 'Extremely high-powered lawyers needed to sacrifice years out of their careers in order to engage in completely pointless activity.' While I was at the Justice Department, my other duties included building elaborate sand castles and 'noodling.'"

Posted at April 30, 2006 12:23 PM | TrackBack

As long as Congress refuses to differ with the signing statements and allow the President to do as he wishes, then it all really IS legal.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 30, 2006 07:08 PM

You know, I think somebody wrote an excellent novel about that once: "They have the power to do whatever we can't stop them from doing."

And so the book was grossly misconstrued, and the logical paradox in its title was generally misunderstood, and then Joseph Heller got rich and ceased voting.


Posted by: Sully at April 30, 2006 07:34 PM

Mike, you're right. In the past the signing statements were used to explain how the president interpreted what he was signing. They cleared up muddy areas. But Bush uses them to circumvent the clear intent of Congress or to negate concessions he made to get the bill passed.

It's the paper equivalent of crossing one's fingers behind the back when signing a bill into law - This doesn't really count.

Posted by: spiiderweb at April 30, 2006 07:42 PM

I think in criminal cases they call it evidence of prior intent.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at May 1, 2006 09:39 AM

Actually, Congress did make an attempt to control Bush's use of signing statements, with rather comic effect:

In 2003, lawmakers tried to get a handle on Bush's use of signing statements by passing a Justice Department spending bill that required the department to inform Congress whenever the administration decided to ignore a legislative provision on constitutional grounds.

Bush signed the bill, but issued a statement asserting his right to ignore the notification requirement.

Posted by: saurabh at May 1, 2006 02:37 PM