Signing statements

SIGNING STATEMENTS…. It’s hard to know where to start when detailing George W. Bush’s assaults on constitutional norms, but near the top of any list would have to be his signing statements. The former president used them to give laws passed by Congress a little “touch up,” explaining which parts of the law he didn’t like, which parts he’d ignore, etc.

While previous presidents had used signing statements sparingly, mainly to address constitutional and/or implementation questions, Bush ended up issuing nearly 1,200 legal challenges through signing statements — more than every other president in American history combined, times two.

Today, President Obama issued a message to administration officials regarding Bush’s signing statements: feel free to ignore them.

Calling into question the legitimacy of all the signing statements that former President George W. Bush used to challenge new laws, President Obama on Monday ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. before relying on any of them to bypass a statute. […]

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. […]

His use of signing statements prompted widespread debate. The American Bar Association declared that such signing statements were “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers,” calling on Mr. Bush and all future presidents to stop using them and to return to a system of either signing a bill and then enforcing all of it, or vetoing the bill and giving Congress a chance to override that veto.

Obama said he would consider using signing statements as president, but would take a modest approach, and limit them to bills that include provisions of dubious constitutionality.

In other words, Obama is returning to constitutional and institutional norms that existed before 2001.