Recently, the General Accounting Office studied
nineteen instances where the president issued so-called "signing statements."
In such statements, the president essentially begins the process of interpreting
legislation up to and including declaring provisions unconstitutional,
hence often refusing to enforce them.
The GAO study found that in nearly 1/3 of the cases studied, the administration
failed to enforce the law as enacted. This approach is especially worrisome
for several reasons.
First, these signing statements tend to move authority from the legislative
branch to the executive, upsetting our delicate system of checks and balances.
Next, these statements grant the president power not given by the Constitution,
allowing him to usurp powers of the judicial branch. Finally, the idea of agencies
refusing to enforce the law as enacted sets precedent for the type of run away
administrative actions our constitution was expressly enacted in order to avoid.
Although these signing statements are at record high numbers, the problem is
not with a single administration. Contrary to the claims of those who raise
this issue for purely political purposes, the most significant challenge to
liberty presented by these statements is that they can serve to further erode
our constitutional republic.
I have long been skeptical of the line item veto on spending bills for the
same reason I oppose these signing statements. The legislature should not yield
its authority to the executive. Our constitutional republic demands that all
branches of government understand and respect our system and jealously guard
their own prerogatives.
In modern Washington nothing is more misunderstood, and less appreciated, than
the genius of republicanism. Presidents issue signing statements that effectively
approve in part and reject in part laws of the land, even though there is no
constitutional provision for such a process. In addition, Congress cedes its
powers at the crucial moment when a decision on whether or not a war is to be
fought will be made, only to then criticize the effort it could have used its
powers to stop.
In his "Notes on Virginia," Thomas Jefferson spoke clearly and directly
about the idea of elected representatives delegating their responsibility to
other branches of government, saying in no uncertain terms that since such representatives
had received their authority by delegation from the people expressly
for the use as representative the legislature had to choose to either
use the authority granted or return it to the people. In other words, there
is to be no delegation of authority from the representatives to the executive
branch of government.
Concerns with signing statements ought to include a concern for the health
of our constitutional republic, it ought not to be based upon the political
battle of the day. Regardless of whether the president is named Bush or Clinton,
and without respect to any particular political interest, we in Congress need
to fulfill our oath of office and protect and defend the constitution and our
republic. Our constituents deserve no less, and should demand it of all of us.