Saturday, July 22, 2006

Suing the President: torture and signing statements

Thank you to all members new and old for getting the word out about the Blogathon. I am starting to sound like a broken record here, but I urge those of you who have not done so yet to put up just one post about our fundraiser. I have put my own money where my mouth is[1], and so have quite a few others, so you know that we are serious. For those of you who cannot donate money, a link is still greatly appreciated.

The American Bar Association taskforce is recommending that Congress make it possible to sue the President for his use of signing statements (source).

A signing statement is a written statement that the President issues to accompany the passing of a new law. Historically they were generally used for rhetorical or political purposes ("this is a great law"), with no actual effect upon the law itself. However, in rare instances, they were used to point out areas where the law encroached upon the President's other prerogatives (Wikipedia).

Since the 40th President, signing statements have increasingly been used for strategic purposes, to not only protect the prerogatives of the presidency, but to also push preferred policies when those initiatives are lost in Congress.

The Reagan Administration ensured that courts would at least pay attention to the interpretation of the law in a signing statement. Both Bush I and Clinton after him continued to take advantage of the situation, using signing statements to reinterpret and control legislation that they had not been able to veto (Christopher, 2003).

Since he took office, George W. Bush has added over 750 signing statements to new laws. Amongst them is Bush's most famous signing statement, attached to the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which basically allows the President to nullify the torture ban when he sees fit. Until this week, Bush had never vetoed a bill, apparently because he had never seen the need to. Signing statements allow him to sidestep Congress, reinterpreting and even nullifying legislation as he sees fit (source).

A lot of ink has been spilt philosophising about torture as symptom of a decadent society, as an indicator of an authoritarian regime. Regardless of what one's political affiliation is, or even one's position on the torture policy, the use of signing statements should send a shiver down your spine.

Make no mistake about it, this is an issue that transcends political ideology. Consider a recent article from The American Conservative magazine

While Bush supporters speak glowingly of originalist interpretations of the Constitution, Bush's signing statements have far more in common with George III than with George Washington.

Clearly these actions are as much an affront to the conservative's traditions of limited government power and respect for American heritage as they are to the liberal's traditions of social justice and individual freedom. In a time of political division, this should be one issue that unites us: a firm opposition to torture policy, and vigorous defence of the institutions which protect us against it.

[1]: $500. And no, I've never been accused of bashfulness before :-)


Blogger The Heathlander said...

Thanks for that. I'd never even heard of 'signing statements' before. FYI: there's a good article about signing statements up at - .

6:24 AM  
Blogger Jeremiah Bullfrog said...

That jez shows how much y'all librals dont know about the COnstitution! GW is the President....The president makes laws and the Congress and Judiciary follow along like the Foundin Daddies intended.....

Has you ever heard of judicial activity? Well that thar is when the judges all speak agin GW....We caint have that in a free society...

If'n y'all librals believe in the individual so much then how come y'all are castin dispersions on GW fer being one!

I hyar ya cryin "Waahhh...GW is doin whatever he wants" Well that thar is freedom aint it? Ol' GW is livin the dream of America, a true individual! Jez like the cowboys...

At least y'all librals is comin round ta supportin torture...I will make a link fer ya on my site so's we can all support GW together...

4:05 PM  
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12:37 AM  

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