Since Sept. 11, the American public has come to believe that the only tangible threats to our nation’s well-being have come from external terrorist regimes. As exemplified by several of his public addresses, President Bush has seemingly become obsessed with the War on Terror. By following our president’s lead, the American people have been blinded from the fact that one of the greatest threats to our nation is actually an internal one: the “war” on the Constitution which is currently being waged by Bush.
While the structure of the Constitution provided each branch with blended powers, it was also intended to ensure that no one branch would be able to exercise the primary functions of any other branch. One of James Madison’s biggest objectives was preventing the power to create, interpret and execute the law from becoming disproportionately concentrated in the hands of the executive, as had been the case in the English monarchy.
Despite the intention of the Framers in creating three equal branches of government, Bush has completely disregarded this fundamental principle by issuing presidential signing statements while conducting the War on Terror.
Bush has argued that as commander in chief of the armed forces during wartime, he necessarily possesses extraordinary powers that he would not normally possess during times of tranquility.
One of these powers that Bush claims to possess is the authority to issue presidential signing statements. Signing statements are statements issued by the president accompanying his signing of a piece of legislation, which articulate his interpretation of what the law was intended to convey.
After threatening to use his power as the chief executive to veto a Defense Appropriations bill containing an anti-torture amendment (sponsored by John McCain), Bush signed the bill into law on Dec. 31, 2005. However, he issued a signing statement upon his approval of the bill.
While McCain’s anti-torture amendment was legally approved at the moment Bush signed the bill, it was effectively nullified by the signing statement. Thus, Bush decided unilaterally to remove the McCain Amendment from the original bill, without the approval of Congress.
In the 1996 Supreme Court case Clinton v. New York, the Court invalidated the president’s use of the line-item veto. The line-item veto previously permitted the sitting president to remove specific sections from a bill which he did not personally agree with and then to subsequently sign off on the remaining provisions.
According to Justice Stevens in his majority opinion in the Clinton case, the Constitution does not provide the president with the power to remove specific sections of a bill without the approval of Congress.
According to the Presentment Clause of the Constitution (Article I, Section 7), the president has two options when a bill is placed on his desk: he can approve the bill in its entirety or he can veto it. There is no in-between option for the president to exercise.
Since the effect of both line-item vetoes and signing statements is to provide the president with the power to change acts of Congress, the two cannot be differentiated.
Thus, presidential signing statements are effectively a cloaked version of line-item vetoes, which Bush claims are not subject to judicial review. By issuing presidential signing statements in over 750 instances in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Bush has violated the Clinton precedent by effectively creating different laws than the ones that Congress had intended.
Even though the president does necessarily possess increased powers during wartime in order to provide for national security, these powers are not unlimited. While the president has extensive authority when acting pursuant to the expressed or implied authorization of Congress, he possesses minimal powers when acting in opposition to the will of Congress or a specific provision of the Constitution. By suspending the McCain Amendment, Bush clearly acted in direct opposition to the intent of Congress.
If Congress had intended for the amendment to be suspended, then why would they have included it in the original bill? If the Framers of the Constitution had intended for its provisions to remain dormant during wartime, then they would have specifically enumerated so in the document.
The Framers would be outraged by the way in which Bush has marginalized the role of Congress and the judiciary during the current conflict.
The United States is a country founded on the rule of law. If the supreme law of the land in the form of the Constitution can be disobeyed simply due to the personal predilections of those in power, then our nation as we know it effectively ceases to exist.