When George W. Bush took the presidential office in January 2001, he swore an oath on the Bible that he would, to the best of his ability “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Yet the president has repeatedly signed bills into law he says are constitutionally suspect, thus blatantly shirking his own constitutional responsibility.
Take, for example, the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act of 2002. As he signed the bill, Bush admitted that certain of its provisions “present serious constitutional concerns” because they “diminished” individual freedoms granted by the First Amendment. He added that he had “reservations about the constitutionality” of banning issue advertising in periods close to a federal election because of the restraint it put on speech.
Bush has issued at least 750 “signing statements” during his presidency, more than all of his forbearers combined. In these statements, Bush often suggests there are constitutional defects in the bill he is signing into law and that the Executive Branch will only enforce the resulting law insofar as it is consistent with the Constitution.
At yesterday’s White House press briefing, a reporter asked the obvious question: If the president believes a bill contains unconstitutional provisions, why doesn’t he simply veto it? In response, White House Press Spokesman Tony Snow conceded that a “great many of those signing statements may have little statements about questions about constitutionality. It never says, we’re not going to enact the law.
“Furthermore, quite often, there are suggestions about ways to proceed that would be absolutely consistent with the congressional intent, and at the same time, consistent with the White House’s views of the constitutional rights and privileges of the executive branch.”
But the president’s stated ambivalence about the constitutionality of some bills he has signed has now opened the door for one of his chief congressional critics, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R.-Pa.), to pursue another constitutional abuse in response. Specter announced yesterday he would push a bill that would allow Congress to sue Bush in federal court.
Congress should not sue the President. It has other powers under the Constitution—ranging from the ability to issue subpoenas and investigate administrative actions, to defunding administrative actions, to actually impeaching renegade federal officials—to reign in an Executive Branch that is dismissive a duly enacted laws.
But the easiest and swiftest way to solve the problem is right at the president’s finger tips. It is a veto pen, which President Bush, not withstanding his first veto last week, has been remiss in using.
For the rest of his presidency, whenever he believes part of a bill is unconstitutional, President Bush should live up to the oath to defend the Constitution. Just veto it, Mr. President.