What is the Law?
Is it for everyone, or just us Little People? It's a question that I wish more people would ask right about now
A bill becomes the rule of the land when Congress passes it and the president signs it into law.
However, according to the White House, a law is not binding when a president issues a separate statement saying he reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard it on national security and constitutional grounds.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Arlen Specter, R-Pa., demanded a hearing on the practice he considers an example of the administrationâ€™s abuse of power.
â€œItâ€™s a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution,â€ Specter said in an interview with The Associated Press. â€œIâ€™m interested to hear from the administration just what research theyâ€™ve done to lead them to the conclusion that they can cherry-pick.â€
Specterâ€™s committee says the Bush administration has challenged many more statutes passed by Congress than any other president, . The White House does not dispute that, but notes that Bush is hardly the first chief executive to issue them.
â€œSigning statements have long been issued by presidents, dating back to Andrew Jackson all the way through President Clinton,â€ White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Monday.
Abuse of executive power?
Specterâ€™s hearing is about more than the statements. Heâ€™s been compiling a list of White House practices he bluntly says could amount to abuse of executive power â€” from warrantless domestic wiretapping program to sending officials to hearings who refuse to answer lawmakersâ€™ questions.
But the session also concerns countering any influence Bushâ€™s signing statements may have on court decisions regarding the new laws. Courts can be expected to look to the legislature for intent, not the executive, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., a former state judge.
â€œThereâ€™s less here than meets the eye,â€ Cornyn said. â€œThe president is entitled to express his opinion. Itâ€™s the courts that determine what the law is.â€
But Specter and his allies maintain that Bush is doing an end-run around the veto process. In his presidencyâ€™s sixth year, Bush has yet to issue a single veto that could be overridden with a two-thirds majority in each house.
Instead, he has issued hundreds of signing statements invoking his right to interpret or ignore laws on everything from whistleblower protections to how Congress oversees the Patriot Act.
â€œIt means that the administration does not feel bound to enforce many new laws which Congress has passed,â€ said David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues. â€œThis raises profound rule of law concerns. Do we have a functioning code of federal laws?â€
My reaction to that last question is "No." I hope Specter and his boys do something about it, but I confess to low, low hopes.