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Bush signing statements 'undermine rule of law': ABA task force

[JURIST] An American Bar Association Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine [ABA materials] has determined [press release] that President Bush's practice of attaching signing statements [1993 DOJ backgrounder] to new laws "undermine[s] the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers." In a report and recommendations to be released Monday, the task force found that the frequency and purpose of signing statements has changed dramatically during the Bush administration. Bush has used signing statements to clarify his interpretation of laws and in some instances reserve the right to bypass laws more than 800 times, compared to just 600 signing statements for all other presidents combined. ABA president Michael Greco expressed concern that Bush's "unchecked" use of bill-signing statements "does grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine." The task force recommended that Congress adopt legislation to allow the president, Congress or other entities to challenge signing statements in court any time the president claims he has the authority to change the bill duly enacted by Congress, and urged President Bush to veto bills instead of signing them with a statement attached. The ABA Board of Governors [ABA backgrounder] voted in early June to launch an inquiry [JURIST report; ABA press release] into President Bush's frequent use of signing statements to bypass provisions of new laws because of his interpretation of presidential and executive powers under the US Constitution. The bipartisan task force [member list] will report its findings to the ABA Board of Delegates at their annual meeting [ABA materials] in August, where the ABA policymakers will decide whether to adopt the task force findings and encourage legal challenges over signing statements.

In June, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Michelle Boardman told [prepared remarks] the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website] that President Bush's use of signing statements is "indistinguishable" [JURIST report] from practices of previous presidents, and the number of statements Bush has issued "is in keeping with the number issued by every President during the past quarter century." In January this year, President Bush controversially reserved the right to bypass a ban on torture [JURIST report] when he signed the 2006 defense spending bill [JURIST report], prompting criticism [JURIST report from even top Republican leaders. In February, the ABA adopted the findings of a similar task force [ABA materials] investigating the warrantless domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive], which recommended [JURIST report] that Bush abide by the constitutional limitations placed on the president or work with Congress to enact new legislation if he believes current laws are inadequate. AP has more.

11:21 AM ET - The Task Force Report with Recommendations [PDF text] is now available.

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