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The Madness of King George | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Madness of King George

Today, a bipartisan American Bar Association task force released its report challenging George Bush's flagrant misuse of signing statements to circumvent the constitutional separation of powers.

Bush has issued more than 800 challenges to provisions of passed laws (more than all previous presidents combined) and he has asserted "his right to ignore law." Among the areas of laws Bush has threatened through this "shortcut veto" are the ban on torture, affirmative action, whistleblower protection, and limits on use of "illegally collected intelligence."

The 10 member ABA panel includes three well-known conservatives, including Mickey Edwards – a former Republican Congressman who places protecting the Constitution above lock-step partisanship. Edwards, a former chair of the American Conservative Union and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, is a true maverick whose recent article in The Nation signals his commitment to protecting our constitutional design. "The President. " Edwards wrote, [has] "chosen not to veto legislation with which he disagreed – thus giving Congress a chance to override his veto – but simply to assert his right to ignore the law, whether a domestic issue or a prohibition against torturing prisoners of war."

Task force member Bruce Fein, who served in the Reagan administration, concurs: "When the president signs a bill and says he is not going to enforce parts of a bill that he finds unconstitutional, it is in effect an absolute veto, because the Congress has no power to override him."

According to The Washington Post, panel members wrote: "The President's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or a subordinate tribunal. The Constitution is not what the President says it is."

The panel is recommending legislation that would require a president to publicly disclose his intention to not enforce any law, including "the reasons and legal basis for the [signing] statement." A second piece of legislation would enable Congress or individuals to seek judicial review in the event that a president claims the authority to not enforce "a law that he has signed or interprets a law in conflict with the clear intent of Congress."

ABA President Michael Greco underscores the importance of these recommendations: "We will be close to a constitutional crisis if this issue…is left unchecked."

As Edwards writes, "… the real issue at stake is not one of presidential policy but of the continued viability of the separation of powers, the central tenet in America's system of constrained government."

This is a critical first step toward reining in presidential power run amok. Certainly more needs to be done, especially as a complicit GOP tries to make legal what should not be – such as the warrantless wiretapping legislation the White House is now seeking.... Which brings us to November.

While one might not agree with all that the Democrats are doing (and I don't), and might wish for more leadership on core issues like the Iraq War and sanity in the Middle East (leadership such as that demonstrated recently by two dozen congressional leaders calling for a cease-fire)…. We MUST restore the checks and balances to counter the one-party state we now live in, especially at this moment when the Republican Party is arguably the most extreme of any governing majority in the nation's history.

Get involved in your Congressional and Senate races. Help stop the madness of King George.

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