The other day I put up a post on all the President's vetos (all one of them) in which I wrote,
There is another, more insidious reason the President has not previously issued a veto. That is because he has often accompanied the signing of bills that he does not like with 'signing statements' in which he claims the right to negate parts or all of them. The most obvious example of this was the prohibition on torture that the Senate passed. He signed it with a statement that he could ignore the provisions 'in the event of a national emergency.' Since he also gets to decide when it is a 'national emergency,' the effect of this is that he ignores the law and acts as though it didn't exist (essentially returning to the conditions that caused the Senate to pass the law in the first place.) What this makes it clear is that this President believes he is above the law.
In fact, I even used too strong a term. He isn't even saying he should be able to ignore the law in case of 'national emergency,' his signing statements have used the term 'national security.' What is national security? The President's hangnail? All we know is that he gets to decide when it is. So we have a President who decides when and to what extent he will obey the law.
I'm not the only one troubled by this. Today, the American Bar Association (yes, the same one that the President cited as having issued 'highly qualified' ratings for John Roberts and Samuel Alito), said that the President is violating the Constitution.
The ABA group, which includes a one-time FBI director and former federal appeals court judge, said the president has overstepped his authority in attaching challenges to hundreds of new laws.
The attachments, known as bill-signing statements, say Bush reserves a right to revise, interpret or disregard measures on national security and constitutional grounds.
"This report raises serious concerns crucial to the survival of our democracy," said the ABA's president, Michael Greco. "If left unchecked, the president's practice does grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine, and the system of checks and balances that have sustained our democracy for more than two centuries."
Of course it threatens the foundation of our democracy. If a President has the right to only follow the laws when he decides to, then he is by definition no longer a President but a dictator. And keep in mind that if this precedent is allowed to stand, then not only will George W. Bush be invested with what are effectively dictatorial powers, but so will every President who comes after him. The consequences of this are frightening to contemplate.