Wednesday, December 21, 2011

signing statement

what a crock.

just a few years ago, liberals were dinging president bush for using signing statements to justify ignoring laws he didn't like. bush's defenders noted that signing statements had been used for years by prior presidents, including democrats, without a peep from bush's liberal critics. the critics replied by noting that bush's signing statements were different than the statements of his predecessors. unlike prior signing statements that would explain the president's understanding of what the law meant, bush was claiming the ability to ignore statutory provisions completely, effectively using them like a line-item veto without a congressional override.

it remains to be seen what kind of signing statement obama will issue in this case. but in order to alleviate the problems with the detention provisions of the NDAA, he's going to have to overrule express provisions of the bill. in other words, to make it less offensive, he would have to do exactly what liberals like me criticized president bush for doing.

even if i could accept the use of a signing statement in this case, obama's signing statement won't really fix the problem. if presidential opinion can overrule a provision of the law, then obama's interpretation could be easily overruled with a reinterpretation by some future president. so even if obama words the statement just right to present abuse, there's no guarantee that his successors won't come up with their own, more expansive, interpretation of the law.

even worse, using a signing statement might actually make it more likely for abuse of the law to occur. once obama signs the NDAA our best hope is for the courts to strike down the detention provisions as a violation of due process. a signing statement that smooths over the rough edges of this legislation will be used by defenders of the law in the inevitable court challenge, perhaps making it more likely for a court to find it constitutional.