Signing statements: the top ten list
On April 20, 2006 the Boston Globe broke the story of President Bush's extensive use of signing statements, in a front page piece, "Bush Challenges Hundreds of Laws", under the byline of Charlie Savage.
There was a text box in the story which was not included in the online version of the story, summarizing the most significant signing statement instances. (It is available in the Globe online, if you know just how to search for it.)
In the interests of wider accessibility and future preservation, here's the list.
Examples of the president's signing statements
Since taking office in 2001, President Bush has issued signing statements on more than 750 new laws, declaring that he has the power to set aside the laws when they conflict with his legal interpretation. The federal government is instructed to follow the statements when it enforces the laws. Here are 10 examples and the dates Bush signed them:
March 9, 2006: Justice Department officials must give reports to Congress by certain daes on how the FBI is using the USA Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers.
Bush's signing statement: The president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he decides it could impair national security or executive branch operations.
Dec. 30, 2005: US interrrogators cannot torture prisoners or otherwise subject them to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
Bush's signing statement: The president, as commander in chief, can waive the torture ban if he decides that harsh interrogation techniques will assist in preventing terrorist attacks.
Dec. 30: When requested, scientific information "prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay."
Bush's signing statement: The president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he decides its disclosure could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch.
Aug. 8: The Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its contractors may not fire or otherwise punish an employee whistle-blower who tells Congress about possible wrongdoing.
Bush's signing statement: The president or his appointees will determine whether employees of the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can give information to Congress.
Dec. 23, 2004: Forbids US troops in Colombia from participating in any combat against rebels, except in cases of self-defense. Caps the number of US troops allowed in Colombia at 800.
Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces, so the executive branch will construe the law "as advisory in nature."
Dec. 17: The new national intelligence director shall recruit and train women and minorities to be spies, analysts, and translators in order to ensure diversity in the intelligence community.
Bush's signing statement: The executive branch shall construe the law in a manner consistent with a constitutional clause guaranteeing "equal protection" for all. (In 2003, the Bush administration argued against race-conscious afirmative-action programs in a Supreme Court case. The court rejected Bush's view.)
Oct. 29: Defense Department personnel are prohibited from interfering with the ability of military lawyers to give independent legal advice to their commanders.
Bush's signing statement: All military attorneys are bound to follow legal conclusions reached by the administration's lawyers in the Justice Department and the Pentagon when giving advice to their commanders.
Aug. 5: The military cannot add to its files any illegally gathered intelligence, including information about Americans obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches.
Bush's signing statement: Only the president, as commander in chief, can tell the military whether or not it can use any specific piece of intelligence.
Nov. 6, 2003: US officials in Iraq cannot prevent an inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority from carrying out any investigation. The inspector general must tell Congress if officials refuse to cooperate with his inquiries.
Bush's signing statement: The inspector general "shall refrain" from investigating anything involving sensitive plans, intelligence, national security, or anything already being investigated by the Pentagon. The inspector cannot tell Congress anything if the president decides that disclosing the information would impair foreign relations, national security, or executive branch operations.
Nov. 5, 2002: Creates an Institute of Education Sciences whose director may conduct and publish research "without the approval of the secretary [of education] or any other office of the department."
Bush's signing statement: The president has the power to control the actions of all executive branch officials, so "the director of the Institute of Education Sciences shall [be] subject to the supervision and direction of the secretary of education."
Photo credit: Starange Waze
Update: Ellen Beth Gill writes in the context of Illinois 10th district politics, but her post on signing statements deserves wide readership. Not just professional commentary, but several useful URLs for anyone who wants to dig deeper.
Update 2: Now that the ABA has issued its unanimous report (pdf at link) denouncing the President's practice of issuing these statements, and a bill has been introduced in the Senate to correct the situation, the web dialogue keeps moving forward. See coherentbabble for exhaustive text of signing statements to date, and a whole lot more.