Shea-Porter Introduces Bill to Curb Presidential Signing Statements

Washington, DC - Congresswoman Carol-Shea Porter (D-NH) introduced a bill on Monday to rein in the use of presidential signing statements. The Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2007 (HR 3045) would prohibit the courts from considering signing statements when interpreting federal laws.

Shea-Porter's legislation is the companion to a bill introduced in the Senate last month by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"President Bush has trampled on the constitutional separation of powers through his abuse of signing statements," said Congresswoman Shea-Porter. "He has attempted to usurp power that was given to the Congress, not the President, and has severely bruised the system of checks and balances. This is an insult to the founders of this country and to the American people, and it cannot be allowed to continue."

Instead of issuing new regulations for the President or the Executive Branch, Shea-Porter's bill seeks to protect the constitutional separation of powers by defining how the courts may use signing statements when interpreting the law. Specifically, the bill reads: "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, no Federal or State court shall rely on or defer to a presidential signing statement as a source of authority." H.R. 3045 does not attempt to curtail legitimate uses for signing statements, such as providing instruction to executive branch agencies.

"Every third grader learns about separation of powers and checks and balances - the Congress writes the laws and the President signs them," continued Shea-Porter. "Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the President can approve part of a law and ignore the rest."


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Background on H.R. 3045: The Presidential Signing Statements Act

History of Signing Statements:

Although signing statements have been around since Andrew Jackson, their use has increased dramatically in recent years. As of April of this year, President Bush had issued 127 separate signing statements containing challenges to over 700 specific provisions of various bills. There have also been a number of high profile cases, including the McCain anti-torture amendment and the Patriot Act reauthorization, in which the President has used signing statements to ignore laws passed by Congress.

Some of the most prominent signing statements in which President Bush asserted that he would not follow the law involved:

o       Congressional requirements to report back to Congress on the use of Patriot Act authority to secretly search homes and seize private papers;

o       The McCain amendment forbidding any U.S. officials to use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment on prisoners (the President said in his statement that as Commander in Chief he could waive any such requirement if necessary to prevent terrorist attacks);

o       A requirement that government scientists transmit their findings to Congress uncensored, along with a guarantee that whistleblower employees at the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will not be punished for providing information to Congress about safety issues in the planned nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain

Some additional examples of signing statements in which President Bush has indicated he will not follow the law are:
o       Bills banning the use of U.S. troops in combat against rebels in Colombia;
o       Bills requiring reports to Congress when money from regular appropriations is diverted to secret operations;
o       Two bills forbidding the use in military intelligence of materials "not lawfully collected" violation of the Fourth Amendment; a post-Abu Ghraib bill mandating new regulations for military prisons in which military lawyers were permitted to advise commanders on the legality of certain kinds of treatment even if the Department of Justice lawyers did not agree;

o       Bills requiring retraining of prison guards in humane treatment under the Geneva Conventions, requiring background checks for civilian contractors in Iraq and banning contractors from performing security, law enforcement, intelligence and criminal justice functions.

[Source: American Bar Association Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, July 24, 2006. ]


Provisions of HR 3045: The Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2007

o       Prevents the President from issuing a signing statement that alters the meaning of a statute by instructing Federal and State courts not to rely on Presidential signing statements in interpreting a statute.

o       Grants Congress the power to participate in any case where the construction or constitutionality of any act of Congress is in question and a presidential signing statement for that act was issued, by:

a)      Allowing Congress to file an amicus brief and present oral argument in such a case.
b)      Instructing that if Congress passes a joint resolution declaring its view of the correct interpretation of the statute, the court must admit that resolution into the case record.

c)      Providing for expedited review in such a case.


Timeline of the Presidential Signing Statements Act: H.R.3045 and S.1747

o       S.1747 was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) on June 29, 2007
o       HR.3045 was introduced in the House by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter on July 16, 2007