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Obama: Don't Rely on Bush's Signing Statements

First Posted: 04/09/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:05 PM ET

Bush Gross

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has ordered a review of his predecessor's signing statements which often told officials how to implement laws, the Associated Press reports.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Obama has sent memos to federal agencies directing them to review former President George W. Bush's signing statements.

When signing legislation, Bush often would use such statements to direct officials to ignore parts of the law he thought were incorrect or restricted the administration's constitutional powers.

Gibbs said presidents have used such statements to note potential problems and Obama planned to continue that practice. But Gibbs said Obama would not use those signing statements to completely disregard Congress' intent.

The memo was first obtained by the New York Times:

Mr. Obama's directions marked the latest step in his administration's effort to deal with a series of legal and policy disputes it inherited from the Bush administration. It came the same day that Mr. Obama lifted restrictions Mr. Bush had placed on federal financing for research that uses embryonic stem cells.


Mr. Bush's use of signing statements -- official legal documents issued by a president the day he signs bills into law, instructing executive officials how to implement the statutes -- led to fierce controversy.

Mr. Bush frequently used signing statements to declare that provisions in the bills he was signing were unconstitutional constraints on executive power, claiming that the laws did not need to be enforced or obeyed as written. The laws he challenged included a torture ban and requirements that Congress be given detailed reports about how the Justice Department was using the counter-terrorism powers in the USA Patriot Act.

Read the full memo:

THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary For Immediate Release March 9, 2009 March 9, 2009


MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT:

Presidential Signing Statements

For nearly two centuries, Presidents have issued statements
addressing constitutional or other legal questions upon signing
bills into law (signing statements). Particularly since omnibus
bills have become prevalent, signing statements have often been
used to ensure that concerns about the constitutionality of
discrete statutory provisions do not require a veto of the
entire bill.

In recent years, there has been considerable public discussion
and criticism of the use of signing statements to raise
constitutional objections to statutory provisions. There is
no doubt that the practice of issuing such statements can be
abused. Constitutional signing statements should not be used to
suggest that the President will disregard statutory requirements
on the basis of policy disagreements. At the same time, such
signing statements serve a legitimate function in our system, at
least when based on well-founded constitutional objections. In
appropriately limited circumstances, they represent an exercise
of the President's constitutional obligation to take care that
the laws be faithfully executed, and they promote a healthy
dialogue between the executive branch and the Congress.
With these considerations in mind and based upon advice of the
Department of Justice, I will issue signing statements to address
constitutional concerns only when it is appropriate to do so as
a means of discharging my constitutional responsibilities. In
issuing signing statements, I shall adhere to the following
principles:

1. The executive branch will take appropriate and timely steps,
whenever practicable, to inform the Congress of its
constitutional concerns about pending legislation. Such
communication should facilitate the efforts of the executive
branch and the Congress to work together to address these
concerns during the legislative process, thus minimizing the
number of occasions on which I am presented with an enrolled
bill that may require a signing statement.

2. Because legislation enacted by the Congress comes with
a presumption of constitutionality, I will strive to
avoid the conclusion that any part of an enrolled bill
is unconstitutional. In exercising my responsibility
to determine whether a provision of an enrolled bill is
unconstitutional, I will act with caution and restraint,
based only on interpretations of the Constitution that
are well-founded.
more

3. To promote transparency and accountability, I will ensure
that signing statements identify my constitutional concerns
about a statutory provision with sufficient specificity to
make clear the nature and basis of the constitutional
objection.

4. I will announce in signing statements that I will construe a
statutory provision in a manner that avoids a constitutional
problem only if that construction is a legitimate one.
To ensure that all signing statements previously issued are
followed only when consistent with these principles, executive
branch departments and agencies are directed to seek the advice
of the Attorney General before relying on signing statements
issued prior to the date of this memorandum as the basis for
disregarding, or otherwise refusing to comply with, any provision
of a statute.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any
right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at
law or in equity by any party against the United States, its
departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees,
or agents, or any other person.

This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA
# # #

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