When President Obama signed a budget bill on Friday, he issued a signing statement claiming a right to bypass dozens of provisions that placed requirements or restrictions on the executive branch, saying he had “well-founded constitutional objections” to the new statutes.
Among them, he singled out two sections barring the use of money to transfer prisoners from the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, into the United States and limiting the ability of the government to transfer them to the custody or control of foreign countries. Mr. Obama said he would apply them in a way that avoided infringing on his powers, without any specific explanation of what that meant.
Signing statements were once obscure, but they became controversial under President George W. Bush, who used them to advance sweeping theories of his own powers and challenged more provisions, including a torture ban, than all previous presidents combined.
His expanded use of the device brought new attention to it, and the American Bar Association called upon Mr. Bush and all future presidents to stop issuing signing statements and instead to veto bills if they had objections to parts of them.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama said that he thought signing statements could be legitimate if used with “restraint” — for instance, to clarify how an ambiguous law should be interpreted.
But since taking office, Mr. Obama has relaxed his criteria by defining “restraint” as meaning invoking only “well-founded” theories of the powers the Constitution gives to the executive branch alone, meaning Congress may not infringe upon them.