[JURIST] A lawyer for the US Department of Justice [official website] on Tuesday defended President Bush's frequent use of signing statements [Wikipedia backgrounder; 1993 DOJ backgrounder] to interpret legislation passed by Congress, in testimony before the US Senate Judiciary Committee [official website]. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michelle E. Boardman testified during the committee's hearing on signing statements [committee materials] that presidents dating to James Monroe have used the statements to express constitutional concerns about legislation. President Bush's use of the technique is "indistinguishable" from that of previous presidents, according to Boardman's prepared remarks [text], and the number of statements Bush has issued "is in keeping with the number issued by every President during the past quarter century." She continued:
It is important to establish at the outset what presidential signing statements are not: an attempt to "cherry-pick" among the parts of a duly enacted law that the President will choose to follow, or an attempt unilaterally to redefine what the law is after its enactment. Presidential signing statements are, rather, a statement by the President explaining his interpretation of and responsibilities under the law, and they are therefore an essential part of the constitutional dialogue between the branches that has been a part of the etiquette of government since the early days of the Republic.Although President Bush has not yet vetoed a bill, he has attached signing statements to over 750 laws [Boston Globe report and examples], including one construing a ban on the cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees [JURIST report]. That statement was criticized by fellow Republicans in Congress [JURIST report].
Critics of the procedure, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] and ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website; statement] have said that Bush's signing statements impermissibly intrude upon Congress's power to write and enact laws under Article I of the Constitution [text], which vests "[a]ll legislative powers herein granted" in Congress. Earlier this month, the American Bar Association announced a bipartisan investigation [JURIST report; ABA press release] of Bush's use of signing statements. The White House on Tuesday defended the president's use of signing statements [press briefing transcript], with Press Secretary Tony Snow saying that the president "is enjoined by the Constitution dutifully to carry out the laws and to execute the laws of the United States. So those -- what the signing statements are designed to do is to make sure that both of those duties are kept in balance, and that the President is, in fact, faithfully executing the laws." AP has more.