Resolved: Presidential Signing Statements Threaten To Undermine The Rule Of Law And The Separation Of Powers

1811 words - 8 pages

The subject of signing statements has created much debate among the houses of Congress, government officials, and the public alike. These signing statements fall under the categories of constitutional and legislative history signing statements. Constitutional signing statements are those in which the president deems certain provisions of the legislation as unconstitutional, therefore they should not be enforced (Bradley & Posner, 2006). Legislative history signing statements are executive interpretations of ambiguous legislation (Bradley & Posner, 2006). The Constitution very specifically outlines the process of a bill being passed up to the executive level, but the issue of presidential ...view middle of the document...

This clause gives the President power to sign a bill into law, veto the bill, or choose not to sign or veto it. If the President signs the bill it becomes law and if vetoed there must be a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to override that executive decision. If the President chooses to do neither then the bill has ten days and its success depends on whether Congress is in session; if Congress is in session the bill becomes law and if not in session the bill flops, which is also referred to as a “pocket veto”. “The Constitution calls upon the president to explain a veto, but is silent about what a president should do when signing a bill; it neither requires nor forbids a president from issuing a signing statement” (Ellis & Nelson, 2010)
The use of signing statements can be dated back to the early 19th century, but have historically functioned as minor and ritualistic statements made by the President to explain their reasons for signing a bill into law, much like that which is done in the case of a veto (Kinkopf, 2006). The first use of a signing statement to refuse to enforce a provision of a bill occurred when James Monroe did not agree with the choices of military officers that the bill appointed; pointing out that it was a presidential duty to select the appropriate individuals for such positions (Kelley, 2007) Despite its limited early uses, it was not until more recently that the use of signing statements became more prominent, as well as more controversial. The Ford and Carter presidencies led to great strides in the use of signing statements, such as the decision made in INS vs Chadha, but it was the Reagan administration that took action to create structure for presidential signing statements (Kelley, 2007) It was in 1986, during Reagan’s presidency, that “the Department of Justice developed a system for using the signing statement and a strategy for making them effective” (Kelley, 2007). Finally, signing statements gained mass public attention, and a connotation with controversy, during the Bush administration (Ellis & Nelson, 2010).
In 2006, a report by the American Bar Association, one that had been ordered by the GAO in response to President Bush’s apparent misuse of signing statements, condemned the use of this executive instrument. This report pushed the President to veto bills that he or she did not entirely agree with, rather than implement a signing statement. In addition, the ABA called for more accountability, requiring the President to include legal evidence in support of the reasons for submitting a signing statement, as well as encouraged a judicial resolution to be sought (ABA, 2006).
Debates on the validity of the ABA task force report, and other claims of presidential signing statements being unconstitutional, are ongoing. The ABA and those that do not support the use of signing statements would argue it gives too much power to the president by allowing the president to choose...

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