Iâ€™m a little behind on some of the summerâ€™s news, particularly news that was dropped like a runny popsicle by most news agencies.Â Earlier this month, the American Bar Association formally protested President Bushâ€™s overuse (in their eyes) of â€œsigning statements,â€ which U.S. Presidents can add to bills as they sign them.Â Historically, these signing statements were usually on the order of â€œGreat piece of legislation, everyone!â€ and they were relatively rare. Â Recent presidents have been using them more frequently, often â€œto declare that sections of the bills they sign are unconstitutional [in their opinion], and that they thus need not be enforced as Congress wrote themâ€ (Boston Globe, 7/24/06; outraged emphasis mine). Clinton did this more than 100 times.Â Bush has done it more than 700 times. Which explains something that puzzled me; namely, why Bush doesnâ€™t veto legislation.Â Vetoes call attention to themselves and can be overridden by Congress.Â Signing statements tend to fly under the radar, and theyâ€™re much harder to counter.Â By using signing statements, presidents can essentially give themselves the line-item veto, which has been ruled unconstitutional.Â This is not only a separation-of-powers issue, but a nonpartisan issue, as the next President will be sorely tempted to continue the trend if it isnâ€™t stopped, no matter his/her party.
Is the widespread use of signing statements unethical?Â Letâ€™s look at it the way Kant might.Â What if everyone used them? Â Try it.Â The next time you have to accept or reject a contractâ€”a job description, a mortgage, wedding vows, etc.â€”just write in small letters (or mutter under your breath), â€œNot,â€ next to any parts of the contract you donâ€™t think should be enforced.Â Then donâ€™t feel obligated to fulfill that part of the contract, and see what happens.
As youâ€™re being escorted out of the building, sitting in jail, or watching your former spouse burn your possessions, just think what a shame it is you arenâ€™t President.