Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Specter Is Right, But Using The Wrong Approach

The Republican Senator from Pennsylvania and ranking member of the Senate Judicial Committee, Arlin Specter, has introduced legislation aimed at stopping the President from amending legislation with signing statements.

Specter is right to try to do something about this problem. But the remedy can not be legislation which is redundant with the plain text of the constitution. The process by which a law becomes a law is clearly mapped out by the constitution. No where in that process is there provision for the President to change the meaning or intent of a bill before he signs it. According to the constitution the law is sent from Congress to the President for him to either sign, allow to become law by ignoring for a time, or if he disagrees with the law he may veto it.

Trying to pass a law which in effect confirms the constitution is the wrong way to approach an obviously unconstitutional course which the President has taken. If the President were to start appropriating money from the treasury to the federal budget as he saw fit would the Congress then pass a law saying that only the Congress may appropriate funds? One would hope not.

The correct course of action is to follow the remedy provided by the constitution. The immediate constitutional remedy for blatantly unconstitutional governance by the President is impeachment.

To be honest, I am reaching the end of my rope in supporting impeachment. I believe the process should be complete before next years Presidential election campaign is in full swing. To endure the travails that impeachment would put the nation through in the heat of an election would be to invalidate the process by making it appear to be overtly political. The impeachment of this President is beyond justified because he has defiantly broken laws and proudly proclaimed his intention to keep doing so, as well as lying to the nation and Congress in a drive to lead the nation into an unjustified war... not to mention torture, taking habeas and generally acting like a king.

In fact the impeachment of Bush is so important and necessary to get right that to cheapen that process by timing it so that it happens in the midst of a campaign would be a massive mistake. Bush's impeachment must stand on it's own merit, not tied in with the passions of a political season. His lawlessness and disregard for the Constitution are the reasons for his removal from office, not to score cheap political points and get votes one way or the other in an election. Impeachment in an election would be percieved as political, not constitional, and it's more important than political.

To me then the remedy provided by the Constitution ought to have been resorted to years ago, even when Republicans held Congress. The party in control is not the determinate factor in whether or not a President has broken the law. It is a crying shame that impeachment has become such a political hot potato. In fact the impeachment of Bill Clinton has poisoned the well, and the Republicans should feel ashamed to have pulled that political stunt. They could make it right now by supporting the Constitution, the nation and actually their own party by holding President Bush to account for the unconstitutional governance he has wrought.

But all this sentiment on my part is wishfull thinking. We are, as they say, where we are, and right now that is with impeachment going nowhere. If it does go somewhere it needs to get there quickly or it will become embroiled in campaign politics rather than considered on it's own merits.

I am convinced that future generations will consider this President the worst ever. They will also consider the Congress which compliantly allowed the disaster to unfold and then refused to hold the President to account as part of the problem as well. This is a problem which will have consequences for future generations as the bar for impeachment as set by the Bush precedent is impossibly high.

In the meantime, lets not settle for legislative remedies to unconstitutional actions by the President in the form of bills which reaffirm what the constitution makes clear in any event. I would just ask those who are worried about these signing statements what they think would happen if the President signed that bill, but attatched a signing statement asserting his constitutional authority under the unitary executive to attatch signing statements to that and future bills?

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