Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Signing Statements Matter

by DAVE LINDORFF

 

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

— Mark Twain

Over the course of the past year, it has been discovered that President Bush, during his five years in office, has cancelled all or part of 750 laws of Congress, quietly and with the stroke of a pen. These so-called “signing statements” have been used to invalidate laws passed by Congress to do everything from require government reporting on the uses of the Patriot Act’s invasive provisions to banning torture and establishing a special investigator for corruption in Iraq.

The Senate Judiciary Committee headed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is finally holding hearings into this issue, but don’t expect much from a that can’t even get worked up over the White House’s failure to send over key people to testify.

Tony Snow, the president’s smarmy flak, says all those “signing statements” are simply a way for Bush to “express reservations about the constitutionality” of those laws.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), one of the president’s yes-men in Congress, says, “The president is entitled to express his opinion. It’s the courts that determine what the law is. I don’t know why the issue of presidents issuing signing statements is controversial at all.”

Well John, here’s the reason: The Constitution.

Remember that hoary document? It’s the one you and the rest of your mealy-mouthed, high-living, coiffed and chauffeured colleagues in Congress swore to uphold when you took office and started collecting your salaries as representatives of the People.

Let’s take a look at that yellowed parchment.

Regarding the powers of the president, Article II says:

The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

It goes on to define that power, saying:

The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.

The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.

Notice, Tony and John, that there is nothing in there about “signing statements” or about “expressing reservations” about laws passed by Congress.

Now let’s look at what the Constitution says about Congress and its powers. In Article I it says:

All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

The key word there is “all,” which kind of precludes the president diddling around with a law afterwards with some “signing statement.”

Article I makes its point clearer, adding that Congress has the power:

To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

That really doesn’t leave a lot of room for presidential interpretation, does it?

So why do we care, John?

Well, let’s for a moment pretend that we all think that Bush is just a swimmingly competent president, that he is beloved and respected by 99 percent of the public, and that he has an unerring sense of what is right. No seriously. Stop laughing. It’s just for the sake of argumentGot your breath back?

Okay, so suppose we then let this towering paragon of erudition and virtue go ahead and second-guess the Congress, and just ex out whatever laws or provisions of laws that he deems unwise.

Well, it won’t stop there. Although the self-involved, self-aggrandizing members of Congress may only care about who’s greasing their palms tomorrow, in a little more than two years, there’s going to be another president and another Congress.

If this president is allowed to get away with undermining Congress’ constitutional power in this egregious manner, the next president, whether it’s Bill Frist, the Newt, Hillary Clinton or Al Gore, will take office with Bush’s definition of presidential power as his or her starting point.

Is that what you guys want?

Why not just scrap the Constitution, then? Why waste all that valuable space in the Library of Congress exhibiting a document that has ceased to have any meaning?

For that matter, why are we bothering to elect you guys? You-and here I mean the Republicans and most of the Democrats in the House and Senate–are daily proving that you view your own jobs as essentially meaningless.

If you can’t see or admit how this president is undermining the whole concept of separation of powers, and establishing himself, and the presidency, as a dictatorship in all but name, if you won’t stand up in defense of your own institution and the Constitution you were sworn to uphold, you should all be fired, and the Congress abolished as a massive waste of taxpayer money.

Fortunately, we have an alternative, which is also laid out in the Constitution. That is election and impeachment.

If you and your current colleagues won’t call the president to account over these subversive “signing statements,” we the People are going to have to oust a bunch of you this November. Then we’ll have to hold the feet of those who are left to the fire, and demand impeachment hearings to declare this president a perpetrator of High Crimes against the Constitution.

DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is due out May 1.

He can be reached at: dlindorff@yahoo.com

 

 

 

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyons
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]