"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 insulting refusal to send over key people to testify.
Meanwhile, 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. The president does, of course, have the right to "express" whatever he wants--that's guaranteed by the First Amendment, if it's still in force. But cancelling laws is not a matter of "expression," it's called "supression" or "repression."
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 form 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?