WASHINGTON (AP) - A powerful Republican committee chairman who has led the fight against President Bush's signing statements said Monday he would have a bill ready by the end of the week allowing Congress to sue him in federal court.
"We will submit legislation to the United States Senate which will... authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with the view to having the president's acts declared unconstitutional," Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on the Senate floor.
Specter's announcement came the same day that an American Bar Association task force concluded that by attaching conditions to legislation, the president has sidestepped his constitutional duty to either sign a bill, veto it, or take no action.
Bush has issued at least 750 signing statements during his presidency, reserving the right to revise, interpret or disregard laws on national security and constitutional grounds.
"That non-veto hamstrings Congress because Congress cannot respond to a signing statement," said ABA president Michael Greco. The practice, he added "is harming the separation of powers."
Bush has challenged about 750 statutes passed by Congress, according to numbers compiled by Specter's committee. The ABA estimated Bush has issued signing statements on more than 800 statutes, more than all other presidents combined.
Signing statements have been used by presidents, typically for such purposes as instructing agencies how to execute new laws. But many of Bush's signing statements serve notice that he believes parts of bills he is signing are unconstitutional or might violate national security.
Still, the White House said signing statements are not intended to allow the administration to ignore the law. "A great many of those signing statements may have little statements about questions about constitutionality," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "It never says, 'We're not going to enact the law.'"
Specter's announcement intensifies his challenge of the administration's use of executive power on a number of policy matters. Of particular interest to him are two signing statements challenging the provisions of the USA Patriot Act renewal, which he wrote, and legislation banning the use of torture on detainees.
Bush is not without congressional allies on the matter. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a former judge, has said that signing statements are nothing more than expressions of presidential opinion that carry no legal weight because federal courts are unlikely to consider them when deciding cases that challenge the same laws.
– Laurie Kellman
UPDATE: Arlen Specter's FISA bill would put President Bush above the rule of law, just as an earlier president would've wanted. Specter's bill (S. 2543) is titled the National Security Surveillance Act, and it is framed as a series of amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA. His bill makes it optional, rather than mandatory, for the president to subject himself to judicial oversight when eavesdropping on Americans, in effect returning the nation to the pre-FISA era. Essentially, the president would be allowed to eavesdrop at will, precisely the situation that led to the surveillance abuses of the Nixon White House and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.