According to the American Bar Association (ABA), President Bush violates the Constitution when he signs a bill into law with an associated ‘signing statement’ expressing misgivings about the constitutionality of that law. In these ‘signing statements,’ Bush claims a right to (quoting the AP article) “revise, interpret, or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds.” It may surprise some of you that I agree with the ABA in this case.
The Constitution provides the president one clear option for expressing misgivings about a bill:
“Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.”—U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 7, Clause 2.
We call this a veto.
If President Bush has misgivings about a bill, the proper course of action is to veto that bill and send his reasons back to the originating house. If Congress overrides the veto, then the president is obligated to enforce that law. If the law is indeed unconstitutional, then there is still another check (the United States Supreme Court) which can invalidate the law through the process of judicial review.
President Bush has used these unconstitutional ‘signing statements’ more times than all presidents before him combined, and yet in six years he has only vetoed one bill. Rather than harping on the legitimate use of war powers, maybe we should harp on these actual instances where the president violates the Constitution.
Updated 7/27: I should clarify that not all ‘signing statements’ are unconstitutional. A statement talking about how great the bill is or how it will be applied by the executive branch is perfectly acceptable. My issue is with statements challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the bill, as statements like that serve to undermine the legitimacy of the law. If the president believes a bill is part- or wholly-unconstitutional, he should veto that bill.
- ABA: Bush violating Constitution (AP via CNN.com [no longer available]).
- U.S. Constitution.
- The Legal Significance of Presidential Signing Statements (Dept. of Justice, 1993—I am not in agreement with many of the conclusions, however it provides a good legal overview and history of signing statements).