The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Arlen Specter, said yesterday that he is "seriously considering" filing legislation to give Congress legal standing to sue President Bush over his use of signing statements to reserve the right to bypass laws.
Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, made his comments after a Judiciary Committee hearing on signing statements, which are official documents that Bush has used to challenge the constitutionality of more than 750 laws when signing legislation .
Bush has issued more signing statements than all previous presidents combined. But he has never vetoed a bill, depriving Congress of any chance to override his judgment. If Congress had the power to sue Bush, Specter said, the Supreme Court could determine whether the president's objections are valid under the Constitution.
"There is a sense that the president has taken the signing statements far beyond the customary purviews," Specter said at the hearing. He added that "there's a real issue here as to whether the president may, in effect, cherry-pick the provisions he likes, excluding the provisions he doesn't like. . . . The president has the option under the Constitution to veto or not."
But a lawyer for the administration, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michelle Boardman, testified that Bush has shown Congress respect by using signing statements instead of vetoes when he has concerns about parts of bills.
"Respect for the legislative branch is not shown through [making a] veto," Boardman argued. "Respect for the legislative branch, when we have a well-crafted bill, the majority of which is constitutional, is shown when the president chooses to construe a particular statement in keeping with the Constitution, as opposed to defeating an entire bill that would serve the nation."
Senator considers suit over Bush law challenge
Charlie Savage, The Boston Globe, June 28, 2006
Ms Boardman's novel assessment of what constitutes respect notwithstanding, I think Senator Specter would be well advised to introduce a bill outlawing signing statements altogether instead of considering whether or not to try and sue the President over this or that signing statement. The President has a choice as to whether to accept a bill as law of the land or reject it using his veto power. If the veto is overridden by the Congress the bill still becomes law. End of story.