House Judiciary Hearing Examines Presidential Signing Statements, ACLU Applauds Panel’s Probe into Administration’s Power Grab

January 31, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today commended the House Judiciary Committee for holding its first hearing of the 110th Congress to examine President Bush’s use of presidential “signing statements.” Since taking office, President Bush has issued such statements affecting more than 750 laws, often claiming a right to not enforce laws passed by Congress.

“When Congress sends a law to the president for signature it is not asking for his comments. The Constitution doesn’t provide for the president to cherry pick which laws – or which parts of the laws – he will enforce. The Founding Fathers of our country designed a system that works when Congress writes the laws and the president implements them,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The president needs to respect the separation of powers.”

Article II of the Constitution clearly states the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” In most cases, President Bush’s signing statements have said he will refuse to enforce part of a law because it conflicts with his extraordinary claims of executive authority. The statements have covered numerous issues, including a congressional ban on the use of torture, affirmative action rules, protection for the integrity of scientific research and whistleblower protections. Such steps, the ACLU noted, defy the constitutional powers of Congress, and undermine the system of checks and balances.

In December 2006, President Bush issued a signing statement regarding H.R. 6407, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. The act reiterated the decades-long prohibition on opening First Class mail of domestic origin without a warrant. An existing regulation allows for the opening of mail without a warrant only in narrowly defined cases where the Postal Inspector believes there is a credible threat that the package contains dangerous material like bombs. The president’s signing statement suggests that he is assuming broader authority to open mail without a warrant.

The ACLU and the Center for National Security Studies have filed three Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the immediate release of records related to that signing statement.

“Bravo to the Judiciary Committee for looking into this flagrant attempt to circumvent the will of Congress and thus the will of the people,” added Fredrickson.

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