Specter Readying Bill To Sue Bush

US Senator of Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, Washington, DC, 2006/5/10
A powerful Republican committee chairman who has led the fight against a tactic by President Bush to avoid carrying out parts of laws he signs said Monday he would have a bill ready by the end of the week to allow Congress to sue Mr. Bush in federal court.

"We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will ... authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of 'signing statements' with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said on the Senate floor.

Specter's announcement came the day that an American Bar Association task force concluded that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duties to sign a bill, veto it or take no action.

Mr. Bush has issued at least 750 signing statements during his presidency, reserving the right to revise, interpret or disregard laws on national security and constitutional grounds.

"That nonveto hamstrings Congress because Congress cannot respond to a signing statement," said ABA president Michael Greco. The practice, he said, "is harming the separation of powers."

Specter's committee came up with the 750 figure for the number of statutes passed by Congress and signed with reservations by Mr. Bush. The ABA estimated Mr. Bush has issued signing statements on more than 800 statutes, more than all previous presidents combined.

Signing statements have been used by presidents typically for such purposes as instructing agencies how to execute new laws.

Many of Mr. Bush's signing statements serve notice that he believes parts of bills he is signing are unconstitutional or might violate national security. The implication is that he would not be bound to execute those parts of the law.

Still, the White House said signing statements are not intended to allow the administration to ignore the law.

"A great many of those signing statements may have little statements about questions about constitutionality," White House spokesman Tony Snow said. "It never says, `We're not going to enact the law."'

Specter's announcement intensifies his challenge of the administration's use of executive power on a number of policy matters. Of particular interest to him are two signing statements that challenged provisions of the USA Patriot Act renewal legislation, which Specter wrote, and legislation banning the use of torture against detainees.

Mr. Bush is not without congressional allies on the matter. Sen. John Cornyn, a former judge who like Bush is a Texas Republican, has said that signing statements are nothing more than expressions of presidential opinion that carry no legal weight because federal courts are unlikely to consider them when deciding cases that challenge the same laws.