The NPR show Fresh Air this evening had an interview with Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage, revisiting his April, 2006, article about president Bush's unprecedented use of signing statements. You can listen to that segment of the show on NPR.org. I was waiting for the interviewer to ask what effect the signing statements have had on federal law enforcement. But he didn't, and so I'm left still wondering whether these statements matter or not.
Bush's signing statements are clearly another way he has attempted to greatly expand the powers of the president, and another aspect of his administration's 'unitary executive' theory, which holds that the president's powers as head of the executive branch and as commander in chief of the armed forces cannot be limited by Congress, and that the president has the authority to judge the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress. In effect, some argue, Bush's signing statements are like a line-item veto that cannot be overturned by Congress nor reviewed by the courts.
Well, maybe... I certainly don't like the signing statements, and believe the 'unitary executive' theory as it's been construed by this administration is a grave threat to the constitution. What the statements can and cannot do need to be clearly defined by Congress and the courts. But can anyone point out an example of where a federal agency has not enforced a law passed by Congress because of a signing statement? And if any agency did that, couldn't they be sued for not enforcing the law, thereby bringing the signing statement (and perhaps the whole principle of signing statements) before the courts?
Without any examples of the detrimental effects of these statements, they seem pernicious more for the principle they embody than for any real force they have in law.