No ABA Sign-Off For White House 'Statements'
The American Bar Association this morning is set to release a report critical of the Bush Administration's penchant for attaching executive-branch "signing statements" to legislation in order to memorialize any White House reservations about the constitutionality of the new laws. No surprise there, the ABA has for years now been highly critical of many of the legal positions the Administration has taken in the name of fighting terrorism. And don't be surprised when the White House either completely ignores the ABA's message or downplays it into oblivion. Just a bunch of pointy-headed liberal lawyers, the feds will say.
Yes and no to that charge. The task force that came up with the 32-page report is a mix of liberals and conservatives and it includes conservative legal scholar Bruce Fein, who was a darling of the right during the Reagan Administration but who know often sides with civil libertarians against the White House. And coming from the left or the right the charge that the signing statements are a presidential power-play is no frivolous argument. There is no dispute that the Bush Administration has used signing statements as a matter of routine. By one account, there have been hundreds more signing statements by this White House than all of its predecessors combined. That's what has the ABA concerned.
On the other hand, aside from the politics of it all, the fact is that noted legal minds are all over the board when it comes to the propriety of signing statements the way they have been used by the current Administration. For example, making the rounds on conservative blogs is a 1993 memo by then Justice Department attorney Walter Dellinger who offered a defense of signing statements for his President, Bill Clinton. I'd love to collar Dellinger now and get his input into whether he believes the Bush Administration has gone too far. And I'd love to see a comprehensive study on how the signing statements affect the enforcement of the laws to which they are attached. Law students out there-- get crackin'
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