Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Senator Specter Introduces A Bill Seeking To Block Judicial Consideration Of Presidential Signing Statements

I know this is one of those lefty blogs Chris Matthews is always complaining about. I know I am going to get an email from Blue Girl about my last post positively reporting the words a Republican Congressman. I know what I am about to post might result in Blue Girl docking my pay, but hell, I am going to post it anyway.

Last Friday Senator Arlan Specter (R-PA) introduced S.1747 "A bill to regulate the judicial use of presidential signing statements in the interpretation of Act of Congress." The bill is very short and, in my opinion, sweet. I have decided to reprint it's operative sections (2 and 4) because I think Specter is using the bill to make his views on the constitutionality of signing statements known in a very clear and forceful way. He has a right to make his case in his own words.

Whether this bill has the support necessary to become law is an open question, but the findings section clearly outlines the deep Constitutional perversity of presidential signing statements. You need to read the findings.


Congress finds the following:

(1) While the executive branch has a role in enacting legislation, it is clear that this is a limited role. Article I, section 7 of the Constitution provides that when a bill is presented to the President, he may either sign it or veto it with his objections, and his veto is subject to a congressional override by two-thirds majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate.

(2) As the President signs a bill into law, the President sometimes issues a statement elaborating on his views of a bill.

(3) This practice began in the early 1800s, and such statements have been issued by Presidents including James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.

(4) Much more recently, some courts have begun using presidential signing statements as a source of authority in the interpretation of Acts of Congress.

(5) This judicial use of presidential signing statements is inappropriate, because it in effect gives these statements the force of law. As the Supreme Court itself has explained, Article I, section 7, of the Constitution provides a `single, finely wrought and exhaustively considered, procedure' for the making of Federal law. I.N.S. v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 951 (1983). Presidential signing statements are not passed by both Houses of Congress pursuant to Article I, section 7, so they are not the supreme law of the land. It is inappropriate, therefore, for courts to rely on presidential signing statements as a source of authority in the interpretation of Acts of Congress.

(6) The Supreme Court's reliance on presidential signing statements has been sporadic and unpredictable. In some cases, such as Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. 714, 719 n.1 (1986), the Supreme Court has relied on presidential signing statements as a source of authority, while in other cases, such as the recent military tribunals case, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 126 S.Ct. 2749 (2006), it has conspicuously declined to do so. This inconsistency has the unfortunate effect of rendering the interpretation of Federal law unpredictable.

(7) As the Hamdan case demonstrates, the Justices of the Supreme Court appear to disagree with one another on the propriety of reliance on presidential signing statements in the interpretation of Federal law. The Supreme Court, with its nine competing perspectives and its jurisdictional restriction to cases and controversies, may remain unable to resolve this difference of opinion and establish a clear rule abjuring such reliance.

(8) Congress has the power to resolve judicial disputes such as this by enacting rules of statutory interpretation. This power flows from Article I, section 8, clause 18, which gives Congress 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'. Rules of statutory interpretation are necessary and proper to bring into execution the legislative power.

(9) Congress can and should exercise this power over the interpretation of Federal statutes in a systematic and comprehensive manner.

(10) Congress hereby exercises this power to forbid judicial reliance on presidential signing statements as a source of authority in the interpretation of Acts of Congress.
Sec. 4 reads

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, no Federal or State court shall rely on or defer to a presidential signing statement as a source of authority.
If you want to read an article about the bill you can find a good one at the Congress Gossip Blog.