Impact Of Presidential Signing Statements
The immediate impact of signing statements, of course, is felt within the Executive Branch: As I noted, Bush's statements will likely have a direct influence on how that branch's agencies and departments interpret and enforce the law.
It is remarkable that Bush believes he can ignore a law, and protect himself, through a signing statement. Despite the McCain Amendment's clear anti-torture stance, the military may feel free to use torture anyway, based on the President's attempt to use a signing statement to wholly undercut the bill.
This kind of expansive use of a signing statement presents not only Presentment Clause problems, but also clashes with the Constitutional implication that a veto is the President's only and exclusive avenue to prevent a bill's becoming law. The powers of foot-dragging and resistance-by-signing-statement, are not mentioned in the Constitution alongside the veto, after all. Congress wanted to impeach Nixon for impounding money he thought should not be spent. Telling Congress its laws do not apply makes Nixon's impounding look like cooperation with Congress, by comparison.President Bush has not used the presidential veto even once, but he HAS added presidential signing statements to more than 700 laws. Just this week, he once again added his "opinion" to a law passed by Congress, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.
The following is an editorial written in the LA Times
First wiretapping, now letter-opening?
The disclosure came in yet another presidential "signing statement," in which President Bush gives his opinion about the legislation on his desk. This one accompanied the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act — a bill to modernize how the Postal Service sets rates, promotes competition with private carriers and shores up funding for its employee retirement benefits.
In his statement, Bush seemed to assert a broader right to do warrantless mail searches than postal regulations allow. The executive branch, he said, would interpret the section on mail privacy "in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances … and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection."
Befuddled, some privacy advocates started asking why the White House felt compelled to assert these surveillance powers when the issue wasn't even on the table. Was Bush trying to provide cover for another secret monitoring program? Was he laying the groundwork for a new one? Was he prodding balky government agents into being more aggressive on mail searches?
Suspicions have undoubtedly been heightened because of the administration's aggressive use of signing statements to defend executive-branch prerogatives, even when they're not at issue. By late July, Bush had used them to challenge more than 800 provisions of bills he signed into law. All of his predecessors combined had challenged fewer than 600 provisions in that manner.
The White House tried to allay fears last week about mail snooping. "There is nothing new here," said spokesman Tony Snow. The statement, he said, is "merely a statement of present law and present authorities granted to the president."
On the surface, he's right. The courts have allowed searches without a warrant under "exigent circumstances," and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act permits them in emergencies when the targets are foreign agents or terrorists.
Still, it's hard not to be suspicious of the president's position on mail privacy, given the administration's record on the issue of domestic surveillance. In the name of the "war on terror," it has taken an unusually expansive view of government power and a correspondingly restrictive view of individual privacy rights. It also has sought to redefine what constitutes a "reasonable" search, and has often done so unilaterally and in secret.
The administration may indeed be up to nothing new when it comes to mail — and that's not the least bit comforting.
Excerpt from HR6407, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which is effectively line-item vetoed by the Presidential signing statement. The bill signing occurred on 20 December 2006; media broke the story of the signing statement on 04 January 2007.
I've also included an excerpt from Title 39 of the Federal Code, which deals with mail classification. The language is identical.
|Current Law||HR 6407 |
|Bush Signing Statement|
Part IV, Ch 36
SUBCHAPTER II, Section 3623
(d) The Postal Service shall maintain one or more classes of mail for the transmission of letters sealed against inspection. The rate for each such class shall be uniform throughout the United States, its territories, and possessions. One such class shall provide for the most expeditious handling and transportation afforded mail matter by the Postal Service. No letter of such a class of domestic origin shall be opened except under authority of a search warrant authorized by law, or by an officer or employee of the Postal Service for the sole purpose of determining an address at which the letter can be delivered, or pursuant to the authorization of the addressee.
The information in the published US Code is a year or two old, having been subjected to extensive review and codification edits. It is not supposed to directly represent the news from Congress. There are other publications for the latest laws.
The most recent edit of Title 39 of the US Code was released by the Law Revision Counsel (LRC) of the U.S. House of Representative on 2006-11-08
... and most recently processed by the Legal Information Institute on Thu Nov 9 04:57:05 2006
SEC. 1010. TECHNICAL AND CONFORMING AMENDMENTS
(c) The Postal Service shall maintain one or more classes of mail for the transmission of letters sealed against inspection. The rate for each such class shall be uniform throughout the United States, its territories, and possessions. One such class shall provide for the most expeditious handling and transportation afforded mail matter by the Postal Service. No letter of such a class of domestic origin shall be opened except under authority of a search warrant authorized by law, or by an officer or employee of the Postal Service for the sole purpose of determining an address at which the letter can be delivered, or pursuant to the authorization of the addressee.
Introduced 07 December 2006; passed House on 8 December; passed Senate on 9 December.
Prior bill versions: HR 22 (introduced 4 January 2005) and S 666 (introduced 17 March 2005)
The executive branch shall construe subsection 404(c) of title 39, as enacted by subsection 1010(e) of the Act, which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection, in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances, such as to protect human life and safety against hazardous materials, and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.
Signed 20 December 20
So please everyone, send me only postcards!!