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All Those "Signing Statements"? Ignore ’Em.

If you had a vigilant liberal in your life during the past eight years, you probably heard about Bush's "signing statements." These were, in...

If you had a vigilant liberal in your life during the past eight years, you probably heard about Bush's "signing statements."These were, in essence, little memos Bush would issue when he singed some piece of legislation into law, asserting his right to ignore it (in whole or in part).There's no explicit constitutional justification for signing statements, but they've been thought to fall under the president's responsibility to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Other presidents have used them to question the constitutionality of certain aspects of laws here and there. But Bush used them to, in effect, retroactively edit legislation. And he used them a lot.


There was controversy about Bush's use of signing statements. He used them to ignore prohibitions on torture, to skirt requirements that he report how the Patriot Act was being implemented, and to allow the military to use intelligence that was collected from U.S. citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In effect, he had a final, unchecked edit on any law.Today, the New York Times reports "President Obama ... ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. before relying on any of [Bush's signing statements] to bypass a statute." So, in effect, they're all void.This is good news. But we need some actual clarity on the legal status of these signing statements. Even if Obama has addressed Bush's misuse of signing statements, he hasn't at all addressed the potential for their misuse.
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