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The Man Who Would Be King

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I had never heard of a presidential signing statement until last January, after President Bush signed the 2006 Defense Spending bill that contained the McCain anti-torture Amendment. The Bush Administration had tried for months to kill the amendment; but after it passed both houses of Congress by veto-proof margins, President Bush suddenly praised the amendment and agreed to sign it.

...But a few days later, the mainstream media disclosed that after President Bush signed the bill, he then quietly signed something called a "presidential signing statement" that declared he did not really have to follow the law, and he would authorize torture whenever and wherever he wanted. I'm not sure why this dirty little secret came out on the news at that time. Maybe Bush's hypocrisy and deceit was too much for even the corporate media to stomach-and they can stomach a lot.

Now it appears that this kind of "double-cross" is standard operating procedure in the Bush Whitehouse.

" "[Bush] agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises-and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened." --Christopher Kelley, political science professor who studies executive power, quoted in the Boston Globe, 4/30/06

While the Bush Administration did not invent presidential signing statements, they have taken them to new extremes. Historically, Presidential signing statements resembled a press release, extolling the virtues of whatever law the President was signing. In only a handful of cases did a President use a signing statement to indicate that he was not going to enforce the law he was signing.

Then, during the Reagan administration, an eager young deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel came up with the bright idea of issuing signing statements to explain the President's interpretation of the law he was signing and to "shift courts' focus away from 'legislative intent'" (The Progress Report, 1/11/06). The lawyer with the plan to distort the intended meaning of our laws was none other than Samuel Alito, who George W. Bush appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, so he could continue perverting 'legislative intent' for decades to come.

Since then there has been a flood of presidential signing statements, and nobody has signed more of them than George W. Bush. To date, Bush has issued only one Presidential veto (the Constitutional process for rejecting a law), but he has nullified or distorted some 800 laws with his Presidential signing statements -more than all other Presidents combined.

By way of these Presidential signing statements, Mr. Bush has effectively told Congress: "You can't make me do anything, you can't stop me from doing anything, and I don't even have to tell you what I'm doing. ...and if you don't like it-too bad."

" "The basic civics lesson that there are three co-equal branches of government that provide checks and balances on each other is being fundamentally rejected by this executive branch." --Elisa Massimino, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, quoted in the Boston Globe, 1/4/06

" "Armed with legal findings by his attorney general (and personal lawyer) Alberto Gonzales, the Bush White House has declared that the president's powers as commander in chief in wartime are limitless. ...When Congress has passed legislation to limit those assertions, Bush has resorted to issuing constitutionally dubious "signing statements," which declare, by fiat, how he will interpret and execute the law in question, even when that interpretation flagrantly violates the will of Congress." --Sean Wilentz, Rolling Stone, 4/21/06

" "No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of [the Constitution's] provisions can be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government." --U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Davis (1815-1886) Ex parte Milligan 71 U.S. 2 (1866)

Even the brain-dead, Republican-led Congress is beginning to realize that presidential signing statements are a problem.

" "The president's signing statements are not the law, and Congress should not allow them to be the last word. The president's constitutional duty is to faithfully execute the laws as written by the Congress, not cherry-pick the laws he decides he wants to follow. It is our duty to ensure, by means of congressional oversight, that he does so." --Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), 3/23/06

" "We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will...authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutionalSenator Arlen Specter (R-PA), AP, 7/25/06

Senator Specter is pretty good at kicking up dust and acting like he is ready to take on the Bush Administration; but when the dust settles, we find that he hasn't done much of anything. So don't hold your breath, waiting for the Republican-controlled congress to do anything about the Bush Administration's all-out assault on the Constitution.

" "If you interpret the constitution's saying that the president is commander in chief to mean that the president can do anything he wants and can ignore the laws, you don't have a constitution: you have a king." --Anti-tax conservative Grover Norquist, quoted in the Guardian, 6/17/06

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Mick Youther is an American citizen, an independent voter, a veteran, a parent, a scientist, a writer, and all-around nice guy who has been roused from a comfortable apathy by the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush Administration.

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