June 28, 2006 – Reports that President Bush has quietly dismissed or otherwise challenged statutes just after signing them led to obfuscating testimony on Capitol Hill in defense of the presidentâ€™s actions.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, at the behest of its chairperson, Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), held hearings yesterday concerning the presidentâ€™s controversial use of â€œsigning statementsâ€� to express disapproval or exceptions to newly inked statutes.
Proponents of Bushâ€™s use of the statements characterized them before the full-committee panel as mere interpretations of the statute being signed into law, or at most as expressions of the presidentâ€™s reservations about the constitutionality of a particular measure. Such is the accepted traditional use of the signing statement, since President James Monroe first wrote one in the early 19th Century.
Michelle Boardman, a deputy assistant attorney general, was the only administration official to testify at the hearing. She suggested the frequency with which Bush included signing statements along with bills he had signed was hardly unusual.
â€œPresident Bushâ€™s signing statements are indistinguishable from those issued by past presidents,â€� Boardmanâ€™s written testimony said. â€œIn addition, the number of such statements issued by President Bush is in keeping with the number issued by every president during the past quarter century.â€�
But in fact, Bushâ€™s signing statements have far superseded traditional uses, and the number of statutes questioned or overridden have far exceeded those challenged by all past presidents. According to an analysis by the Boston Globe in April, the presidentâ€™s father, in office for four years, challenged 232 statutes with signing statements; Bill Clinton challenged just 140 laws. Prior to the Reagan administration, when some 71 signing statements were used, the legally ambiguous documents were not employed as strategic instruments, according to a research paper by Christopher Kelley, a presidential scholar at Miami University in Oxford.
Over the first five years of his presidency, by contrast, George W. Bush had already used the statements to question, dismiss or contradict more than 750 statutes insofar as they pertain to his presidential powers, the Globe reported.
In many of his signing statements, Bush has gone farther than all but a few examples from previous presidencies by expressing his intention not to comply with major elements of newly signed legislative packages, rather than merely question or take exception to specific provisions of a bill on constitutional grounds.