Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Signing away democracy

Published: September 1, 2006
Section: Opinions

Like most Americans I hadnt heard of presidential signing statements until this summer, I had never thought it mattered what the president said when he signed a bill into law. But a recent report by the American Bar Association has outlined the way President Bush has used these statements to rewrite and rescind legislation.
Presidential signing statements are little more than glorified press releases: public comments that presidents have occasionally made to praise or condemn notable bills. Washington, Jefferson, and most other early presidents never made a signing statement;

in fact a majority of the 600 presidential signing statements made prior to Mr. Bush came in the past 25 years.
But those statements did nothing more than provide legislative commentary. By comparison Mr. Bush has issued more than 800 statements generally trying to repeal or rewrite legislation.
Mr. Bush has effectively altered the balance of power in DC, using these statements to proclaim that he will ignored the McCain torture amendment, oversight provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, and other vital checks on executive power.
Mr. Bush justifies his conduct by saying legislation interfering with the constitutional duties of the president is invalid. This is true;

numerous laws have been struck down over the years for precisely that reason, but it is not the place of the president to decide which laws should stand.
A president who can unilaterally disregard legislation is no different than a king;

he is unbound by the rule of law and unchecked in his conduct. Courts, not the president, are entrusted with the power of judicial review, with the duty to strike down those laws that run a foul of the constitution.
A court may decide cases, it may rule on maters of great import, but it will never have the power that the other branches have to pursue their own partisan agenda. Our founding fathers feared a president allowed to interpret the law and constitution for himself would do it self-servingly.
Even if the courts put an end to Mr. Bushes practice, it will not be enough to remedy the damage being done. Mr. Bush directs tens of thousands of executive branch employees who will continue to violate the law as he prescribes.
The courts have always depended on the good faith of the president, and have no way reign in one who does not respect checks on his power. Our system of government has no mechanism, aside from impeachment, for dealing with a president who is unwilling to faithfully execute the laws.
It is time for the American people to realize the danger Mr. Bushs theory of the wartime president poses to this nation? Our generation knows all to well the threat that terrorism poses, but we also know how myopic it is to sacrifice essential liberties to defend against Al Quaeda.
Our conduct in the war on terror will likely define America for decades to come and unless steps are soon taken to curb the use of presidential signing statements, I fear our republic may be no more than a nostalgic story to future generations.