Signing Statements Erode Constitutional Balance

By Ron Paul
July 9, 2007

This article originally appeared on Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk

Recently, the General Accounting Office studied nineteen instances where the President issued so-called “signing statements.” In such statements, the President essentially begins the process of interpreting legislation – up to and including declaring provisions unconstitutional—hence often refusing to enforce them.

The GAO study found that in nearly 1/3 of the cases studied, the administration failed to enforce the law as enacted. This approach is especially worrisome for several reasons.

First, these signing statements tend to move authority from the legislative branch to the executive, thus upsetting our delicate system of checks and balances. Next, these statements grant the President power not given by the Constitution, allowing him to usurp powers of the judicial branch. Finally, the idea of agencies refusing to enforce the law as enacted sets precedent for the type of run away administrative actions our constitution was expressly enacted in order to avoid.

Although these signing statements are at record high numbers, the problem is not with a single administration. Contrary to the claims of those who raise this issue for purely political purposes, the most significant challenge to liberty presented by these statements is that they can serve to further erode our constitutional republic.

I have long been skeptical of the line item veto on spending bills for the same reason I oppose these signing statements. The legislature should not yield its authority to the executive. Our constitutional republic demands that all branches of government understand and respect our system and jealously guard their own prerogatives.

In modern Washington nothing is more misunderstood, and less appreciated, than the genius of republicanism. Presidents issue signing statements that effectively “approve in part and reject in part,” laws of the land—even though there is no constitutional provision for such a process. In addition, Congress cedes its powers at the crucial moment when a decision on whether or not a war is to be fought will be made, only to then criticize the effort it could have used its powers to stop.

In his Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson spoke clearly and directly about the idea of elected representatives delegating their responsibility to other branches of government, saying in no uncertain terms that since such representatives had received their authority by delegation from the people-- expressly for the use as representative-- the legislature had to choose to either use the authority granted or return it to the people. In other words, there is to be no delegation of authority from the representatives to the executive branch of government.

Concerns with signing statements ought to include a concern for the health of our constitutional republic, it ought not to be based upon the political battle of the day. Regardless of whether the President is named Bush or Clinton, and without respect to any particular political interest, we in Congress need to fulfill our oath of office and protect and defend the constitution and our republic. Our constituents deserve no less, and should demand it of all of us.

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Who is going to reign in the President? Where does he find this authority that he claims gives him the right to do what he wants without scrutiny or accountability? If the courts, or even the legislature (the two bodies that are supposed to check the executive's power) do not take a stand now, will it ever stop? Signing statements, unfounded executive orders, claiming executive privilege on everything to avoid answering to the people--it has to stop. The only other solution is to get a President whom we can trust to not abuse the power we give him, and Ron Paul is the most likely, if not the only, candidate who would stop the abuse. Maybe he would once again outlaw the corporate lobby as well if he can get elected without their money, that would be even better for the people.

Signing statements are a high crime

The first time I heard of a signing statement I had to look it up in the constitution. What I found is that there are three actions the President can take.
He can sign it, signifying that he will faithfully execute the law.
He can send it back to Congress, stating his objections or his request for clarification, A Veto.
He can do nothing, in ten days the bill becomes law , or if there are less than ten days to the end of a Legislative session , the bill becomes void(a pocket Veto)

Any statement attached to the bill , is in effect writing a law, which the executive cannot do.

But first it is a open written statement that the President will not faithfully execute the law. This is breaking the trust that he will perform his job as he is supposed to do.

That is the definition of a high crime!