Bush Signing Statements Will Retire With Their Author, by Christopher Weaver, ProPublica, January 7, 2009.
"They will mean nothing" once Bush leaves office, said Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University and member of an American Bar Association task force that studied, and ultimately condemned, the practice of using signing statements to reject statutes. Presidents should veto laws they believe are unconstitutional, the task force said.
The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Armed Services Committee issued a report on Presidential signing statements: Findings of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in Support of the Full Committee re: Presidential Signing Statements (PDF, 4 pages). It is also available here from the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, which describes the report here: White House Signing Statements “Unsubstantiated,” Report Says, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News, August 20, 2008.
The Subcommittee held hearings on signing statements ("Testimony on the impact of the Presidential signing statement on the Department of Defense’s implementation of the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act) on March 11, 2008. Prepared statements and audio transcripts are available on the Committee's hearing information page. (Nothing is available from GPO Access yet, apparently.)
Also see: Essential Reading About Signing Statements (which includes links to audio files of the hearings from hascaudio.house.gov, but which I had no success in loading) and News About Signing Statements maintained by Joyce A. Green.
Just browsing around this important topic and trying to find a single, reliable link to all the information from the government is a good demonstration how far we have to go to get good access to government information.
The American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara has archived all Presidential Signing Statements from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush.
You can search or browse by year. The signing statements are part of a much larger documents section that includes executive orders, proclamations, "fireside chats" and more.
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), has launched an investigation challenging repeated assertions by President Bush that he need not enforce aspects of laws he deems unconstitutional. "The signing statements amount to a line-item veto, according to critics, and frustrate the legislative branch by not giving lawmakers the opportunity to override a presidential veto."
Interestingly, the article says that a collection of Bush's signing statements is not "readily accessible to lawmakers or the public," but check out this remix by Coherent Babble. This site gives an index and full-text from 2001 - present scraped from whitehouse.gov and gpoaccess.gov (has anyone noticed gpoaccess' terribly broken site search? I sent it in @ Aug, 2006 :-| ). Or if you want them farther back in time, UC Santa Barbara's Presidency Project has all the signing statements from Hoover to G.W. Bush -- as well as Public Papers, State of the Union addresses, inaugural & radio addresses, fireside chats, news conferences, executive orders, proclamations, debates, convention speeches and party platforms to boot!
Anyway, read the rest of the article:
[Thanks Crooks and Liars!]
Today we updated our list of information-impairing Presidential Signing Statements with an entry that appears to gut reporting requirements on nuclear technology shared with India.
Please let us know if you know of a Presidential Signing Statements that purports to limit information to Congress or the public. Since the President has used this tool many more times than all of his predecessors combined, we might miss a statement or two.
On December 20, 2006, President Bush signed H.R. 6407 (Public Law No. 109-435), the "Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act" but in his signing statement (President's Statement on H.R. 6407, the "Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act") he "declared his right to open mail under emergency conditions, contrary to existing law and contradicting the bill he had just signed, according to experts who have reviewed it" according to an article in the New York Daily News and reprinted in the Seattle Times:
- Bush says feds can open mail without warrant by James Gordon Meek, New York Daily News (Seattle Times), January 4, 2007.
The opening of mail isn't the only qualification in the signing statement. There are a total of six paragraphs stating various qualifications to the law in "executive branch shall construe" statements.
On December 21, 2006, President Bush signed S. 2370, the "Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006" , but made a statement indicating he intends to ignore reporting requirements:
The executive branch shall construe section 3(b) of the Act, which relates to access to certain information by a legislative agent, and section 11 of the Act, which relates to a report on certain assistance by foreign countries, international organizations, or multilateral development banks, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to withhold information that could impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative processes of the Executive, or the performance of the Executive's constitutional duties.
According to the final version of the bill on Congress' Thomas web site, here are the "offending sections" in the President's view:
`(b) Exceptions- Subsection (a) shall not apply with respect to the following:
`(1) ASSISTANCE TO MEET BASIC HUMAN NEEDS- Assistance to meet food, water, medicine, health, or sanitation needs, or other assistance to meet basic human needs.
`(2) ASSISTANCE TO PROMOTE DEMOCRACY- Assistance to promote democracy, human rights, freedom of the press, non-violence, reconciliation, and peaceful coexistence, provided that such assistance does not directly benefit Hamas or any other foreign terrorist organization.
`(3) ASSISTANCE FOR INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS OF THE PALESTINIAN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL- Assistance, other than funding of salaries or salary supplements, to individual members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who the President determines are not members of Hamas or any other foreign terrorist organization, for the purposes of facilitating the attendance of such members in programs for the development of institutions of democratic governance, including enhancing the transparent and accountable operations of such institutions, and providing support for the Middle East peace process.
`(4) OTHER TYPES OF ASSISTANCE- Any other type of assistance if the President--
`(A) determines that the provision of such assistance is in the national security interest of the United States; and
`(B) not less than 30 days prior to the obligation of amounts for the provision of such assistance--
`(i) consults with the appropriate congressional committees regarding the specific programs, projects, and activities to be carried out using such assistance; and
`(ii) submits to the appropriate congressional committees a written memorandum that contains the determination of the President under subparagraph (A).
SEC. 11. REPORTING REQUIREMENT.
Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and annually thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report that--
(1) describes the steps that have been taken by the United States Government to ensure that other countries and international organizations, including multilateral development banks, do not provide direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority for any period for which a certification described in section 620K(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (as added by section 2(b)(2) of this Act) is not in effect with respect to the Palestinian Authority; and
(2) identifies any countries and international organizations, including multilateral development banks, that are providing direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority during such a period, and describes the nature and amount of such assistance.
FGI leaves it to others to interpret section 3(b) above, but in denying the validity of Section 11, the President appears to be saying that he considers mere reporting of aid to the Palestinians by other nations and groups to be harmful to the national interest.
Does this mean that the Administration is aware of non-humanitarian aid to the Hamas-led government, but doesn't want to make that public? If so, it must be coming from our "allies" in the Mideast, since presumably Iranian or Syrian Aid would be splashed across the front pages of papers.
These are the kinds of questions we are left with by a secretive administration.
How many of these signing statement will it take to convince Congress that any "compromise" legislation based on reporting requirements in exchange for new powers or resources is doomed to failure? Will this pattern of allowing the administration to pick and choose from the laws it obeys continue with the new Congressional majority? FGI hopes so.
In his October 4, 2006 Statement on Signing the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007 (H.R. 5441), the President said:
The executive branch shall construe section 522 of the Act, relating to privacy officer reports, in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch.
The executive branch shall construe section 503(c)(4) in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to require the opinions of heads of departments and to supervise the unitary executive branch. Accordingly, the affected department and agency shall ensure that any reports or recommendations submitted to the Congress are subjected to appropriate executive branch review and approval before submission.
The full text of HR 5441 can be found on its Thomas page.
Section 522 appears to be intended to prevent anyone but the DHS privacy officer from altering his/her reports:
SEC. 522. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used by any person other than the Privacy Officer appointed under section 222 of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 142) to alter, direct that changes be made to, delay, or prohibit the transmission to Congress of any report prepared under paragraph (6) of such section.
Makes you wonder why you'd want other people to alter the reports, or why a REPUBLICAN Congress might be concerned enough to put this provision into legislation.
Section 503(c) does not appear to come with a subparagraph 4. If you spot such a provision or know what the President is talking about, please let us know in comments or by e-mail to admin AT freegovinfo.info
The October 13, 2006 Statement on Statement on Signing the SAFE Port Act contained this statement:
The executive branch shall construe as advisory provisions of the Act that purport to direct or burden the conduct of negotiations by the executive branch with foreign governments, international organizations, or other entities abroad, that purport to direct executive branch officials to negotiate with foreign governments or in international organizations to achieve specified foreign policy objectives, or that purport to require the executive branch to disclose
deliberations between the United States and foreign countries. Such provisions include subsections 205(d) and (i) and 803(b) of the Act; subsection 431(b) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, as amended by section 301 of the Act; and subsection 629(h) of the Tariff Act of 1930,
as amended by section 404 of the Act. Such provisions, if construed as mandatory rather than advisory, would impermissibly interfere with the President's constitutional authorities to conduct the Nation's foreign affairs, participate in international negotiations, and supervise the unitary executive branch.
The full text of the Safe Port Act can be found on its Thomas page.
One of the more surprising areas where the Administration is refusing to report on is Internet Gambling. The President fears for the safety of the country if this report is made to Congress:
803 (b) Report Required- The Secretary of the Treasury shall submit an annual report to the Congress on any deliberations between the United States and other countries on issues relating to Internet gambling.
One would think that the Administration would want to document progress towards eliminating Internet gambling. What purpose is served in keeping it secret?
Of course, one can also be surprised that Internet gambling made into a ports bill to begin with!