Tuesday, July 10, 2007

STIFLE HIM ARLENE: Senator Spector Introduces a Bill to Ban the Use of Presidential Signing Statements in Court Decisions

Does any elected official in Washington DC actually read the US Constitution???

Senator Arlene Spector (R-Pa.) has introduced a bill to ban Courts from using Presidential signing statements to reflect part of the history of any law.
You can access a copy of the proposal here. It's only 2 pages long and worth the read.


Far be it from me to not understand where the good Senator is coming from. I hate Bush's stupid self serving signing statements too. Screwing with the delicate balance of Powers set up by the US Constitution is not the way to fix it however.
The bill is of course DOA when it hits the oval office. Moreover, it should be.
This is an example of over-kill and it is Constitutionally unexceptable.

First it says that the Supreme Court (hereinafter SCOTUS) actually all courts, are banned from referencing Presidential signing statements or relying on them in determining cases. The Constitution does not require that and it is not a good precedent to allow one branch of government to officially silence another branch of government.

Secondly the bill would give Congress the right to expedite matters in the courts and to file amicus briefs through the House or Senate Counsel offices. These briefs must be accepted by the court. Nope, the cases in controversy in the courts belong to the litigants. Amicus approval should in the first instance be up to them. If they unreasonably withhold that approval, or the court thinks it would help reach a better determination if other parties weigh in, then it may ask for or accept these briefs.

Finally, Congress now also wants the right to file a clarifing statement to any case where a court wants to interpret the law. It will come up with a statement and if it passes by a majority vote it will be used to clarify what Congress meant when it passed the law. Now that should really leave laws in limbo.

The purpose of law and precedent is so people can rely on the law in making everyday decisions. Can you imagine what would happen if everytime Congress changed hands, they could "clarify" what the Congress that passed a law meant when it passed the law. Besides isn't that what the court does. Doesn't the fact that there are no judicial terms mean in part that courts is the branch with longevity? Isn't that one of the purposes of life terms?

When a court interprets a law, it can use legislative history to help interpret what Congress meant when the law passed, and it should likewise have the benefit of the President's thoughts on the matter, at the time the law was enacted. The court does not have permission to check its brain at the door however. It must use these tools as it sees fit. Litigants can site to them and they too should be able to cite the statements of Congressmen and Senators as well as Presidents. What are we saying to our courts when we tell them they can cite foreign law and cases but not the words of our own popularly elected President???

Some scholars have been bothered that when President Bush signs a Law, his signing statements are often orders to his executive branch as to how he wants the law enforced. His statements often cherry pick the things he likes about the bill while objecting and trying to accept himself from the parts he doesn't like. I agree with these scholars that the President is wrong to do that. He should enforce all the laws. The remedy however should not be to ban his ideas about a piece of legislation. It is instead to Impeach him if they think he is failing to do his job.

That is not an easy thing to do, but it is the appropriate check on Presidents that refuse to enforce the law. Trying to take back power through unconstitutional means is both overkill and bad make that lazy lawmaking.
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