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Friday, January 4, 2013

Detainees and Signing Statements

Previous posts have discussed presidential signing statements, which direct the executive branch how to carry out a new law. Presidents have sometimes used signing statements to claim authority to override or bypass provisions of laws. The New York Times reports:
President Obama set aside his veto threat and late Wednesday signed a defense bill that imposes restrictions on transferring detainees out of military prisons in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But he attached a signing statement claiming that he has the constitutional power to override the limits in the law. 
The move awakened a dormant issue from Mr. Obama’s first term: his broken promise to close the Guantánamo prison. Lawmakers intervened by imposing statutory restrictions on transfers of prisoners to other countries or into the United States, either for continued detention or for prosecution. 
... President George W. Bush ... used signing statements to advance sweeping theories of presidential power and challenged nearly 1,200 provisions over eight years — more than twice as many as all previous presidents combined. 
The American Bar Association has called upon presidents to stop using signing statements, calling the practice “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.” A year ago, the group sent a letter to Mr. Obama restating its objection to the practice and urging him to instead veto bills if he thinks sections are unconstitutional. 
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama sharply criticized Mr. Bush’s use of the device as an overreach. Once in office, however, he said that he would use it only to invoke mainstream and widely accepted theories of the constitutional power of the president.