Better the devil you

July 31, 2006 6:46 p.m.

Better the devil you know…

If the Bush Administration signs a bill into law, but doesn’t plan to enforce it — isn’t it better that it says so? That’s one of the main points made by a panel of legal experts who’ve posted their thoughts on the controversial “signing statements” issue over at TPMCafe.

A signing statement is just that – a statement that accompanies the President’s signing of a law. It’s a tool that’s long been used by presidents, often in order to instruct agencies on how to execute new laws. But this administration has used it much more widely and aggressively, sometimes in a way that served to effectively veto the legislation, as with John McCain’s supposedly comprehensive anti-torture amendment.

It was that kind of use of the signing statement that provoked the American Bar Association to issue a report condemning this administration’s use of it. The bipartisan panel said it was an unconstitutional usurpation of power. And following closely on the report, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) announced that he’d be introducing legislation that would allow Congress to sue the President in order to challenge the statements.

But over at TPMCafe, a panel of eight experts, all of whom have served in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, writes that the ABA got it wrong.

As one would expect, it’s a closely reasoned analysis of the issue, but it boils down to a simple idea — signing statements are just that: statements. “The constitutional problem,” the panel writes, “arises when the President executes, or fails to execute, a statute.”

If the President doesn’t plan to follow the law, you want him saying so. There’s already enough of a problem of this administration arguably breaking certain laws to criticize them for being clear about their intentions.

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