Sunday, April 30, 2006

CHARLIE SAVAGE AT THE BOSTON GLOBE has written a stunning article about just how far George W. Bush's drive to enlarge the powers of the presidency has taken him. Savage writes that, over the past five years, Bush has asserted his right to set aside literally any law or provision of law that he decides infringes upon or violates the prerogatives of the executive branch, as Bush unilaterally interprets those prerogatives.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, "whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Former administration officials contend that just because Bush reserves the right to disobey a law does not mean he is not enforcing it: In many cases, he is simply asserting his belief that a certain requirement encroaches on presidential power.

But with the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, in which he ignored a law requiring warrants to tap the phones of Americans, many legal specialists say Bush is hardly reluctant to bypass laws he believes he has the constitutional authority to override.

No, he is not. And, as Savage reports, Bush has declared his right to violate more than 750 laws that were passed since he took office -- laws that he signed.

Remember back in late December, when Bush agreed to drop his opposition to the McCain anti-torture legislation, and signed the bill after it passed Congress by huge margins in the both the House and the Senate? Well, before the ink on his signature was dry, Bush issued a "signing statement" which said, essentially, that he intended to ignore the law whenever he decided its provisions interfered with his presidential powers.

That cynical and duplicitous act was roundly criticized by bloggers and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But Bush has done the same thing in hundreds of other instances, making it a practice never to veto a bill, but announcing after he signs the bill into law that he reserves to himself the right not to abide by it.

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files "signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.

"He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises -- and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened," said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University of Ohio political science professor who studies executive power.

Bush supporters like to justify their distrust of diplomacy by saying that negotiation only works if the other side is willing to negotiate in good faith. Well, the same is true of democracy: It only works if all the players are willing to enforce the system of checks and balances that is at the heart of democracy. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights have absolutely no power to preserve democracy in and of themselves. Congress and the courts and the American people have to be willing to stand up to an executive branch gone mad with power or our democracy is gone.

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive-power issues, said Bush has cast a cloud over "the whole idea that there is a rule of law," because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore.

"Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional," Golove said.
Golove said that to the extent Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of the Supreme Court's precedents, he threatens to "overturn the existing structures of constitutional law."

A president who ignores the court, backed by a Congress that is unwilling to challenge him, Golove said, can make the Constitution simply "disappear."

Glenn Greenwald sees the Boston Globe piece as an encouraging sign -- maybe even a breakthrough: "The media [is] finally starting to report the President's systematic lawbreaking," he titles his post on the article.

May it be so.

1 comment:

HLS said...

The British Monarch can do no wrong. Now George W.Bush says that he does not have repect any law which he deems unconstitutional. He doen't have to wait for the Supreme Court to pronounce itself on any Law. Let's abolish the Presidency and create a monarchy. How does George w. the First sound? His motto should be, "I am the master of all I survey!"