The Mix

Bush can disobey 750 laws

In his unending quest for an imperial presidency, Bush regularly decides to ignore laws he doesn't like.
The fact that Bush wants to rule as something like a dictator is nothing new. Heck, he even said it himself. But a startling new article in Sunday's Boston Globe shows just how far he's already taken his wish: Bush has reserved the right to ignore as many as 750 laws passed by Congress during his presidency.

In the piece, Charlie Savage provides a rundown of how President Bush has used signing statements in lieu of the presidential veto. In contrast to Bush The First's 232 such challenges, and Clinton's 140, George W. has challenged 750 new laws in this manner.

The effects? Jack Balkin over at Balkinization neatly sums them up for us: The signing statements enable the president to pick certain portions of legislation that he doesn't fancy, undermining the will of Congress without any public accountability or effective recourse from Congress or the courts. George W.'s allergy to vetoes smack of a specific intent to avoid public scrutiny of his interpretation of the constitution. As Balkin writes,
The Bush Administration didn't want Congress regulating how it treated prisoners, regarding any such interventions as unconstitutional; at the same time, it didn't want the courts deciding the question of constitutionality either. It simply wanted to be free of legal obligations or responsibilities in this area other than those that it choose for itself.
While a presidential veto would require Congress to weigh in, and change the law if it appeared to be unconstitutional, those 750 signing statements are an effective way of influencing future legislation without facing any oversight.

The law is constantly subject to interpretation -- and signing statements have import in future readings of congressional intent. That means that these the president's willfull misinterpretation of Congress (case in point: President Bush's claim that the Authorization to Use Military force -- AUMF -- allows the president to illegally wiretap and search Americans) can impact future court rulings, long after Bush is out of office.

While it's tempting for those opposed to this president to continually ask, "How can he get away with that?" the answer is deceptively simple: because he thinks he can.

As journalist Robert Scheer noted in a recent interview with AlterNet,
These guys are…far worse than the Nixon crowd because they think they can get away with it. Nixon, at the end of the day thought it mattered what the New York Times said. He felt that if there was a big contradiction, a big error, they would catch him and there would be all hell to pay.
But it's not just the specter of the public and press that normally keeps executive power in check: Our political system relies on each branch exercising self-restraint. Fear of and respect for the other branches of government has long provided a more conservative exercise of power. But as Cheney has made explicitly clear, this administration is interested in expanding executive power, not restraining it.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an assistant editor at AlterNet.
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