WASHINGTON (CNN) – In the latest of a series of moves intended to limit or reverse the policies of his predecessor, President Obama quietly issued a memorandum Monday that will likely limit the impact of the many legislative signing statements that became a bit of a trademark during former President George W. Bush’s tenure.
In the two-page memo, Obama makes the case both for and against presidential signing statements, the presidential practice of laying out constitutional and other legal concerns about a piece of legislation at the time the chief executive signs a bill into law.
“Constitutional signing statements should not be used to suggest that the President will disregard statutory requirements on the basis of policy disagreements,” Obama wrote in the memo.
“At the same time, such signing statements serve a legitimate function in our system, at least when based on well-founded constitutional objections. In appropriately limited circumstances, they represent an exercise of the President’s constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and they promote a healthy dialogue between the executive branch and the Congress.”
The memo then lays out four principles that will govern Obama’s use of signing statements: notifying Congress of his administration’s concerns about pending legislation; utilizing only “well-founded” interpretations of the Constitution; increasing transparency by laying out the administration’s constitutional concerns with specificity and avoiding constitutional problems by using only “legitimate” constitutional interpretations when possible.
On the basis of these principles, Obama directs his administration to seek guidance from Attorney General Eric Holder before relying on any presidential signing statement issued before Monday in order to disregard or refuse to comply with any provision of a federal statute.
The net effect of Obama’s directive is to prohibit his administration from utilizing any signing statements issued by George W. Bush – and any prior president – without first getting the okay from Holder.
“This President will use signing statements in order to go back to what has previously been done,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters in his daily briefing Monday. “And that is to enumerate constitutional problems that either the Justice Department or the - or legislative council here see as a potential problem through their reading, but not ask that laws be disallowed simply by executive fiat,” added Gibbs.