March 9th, 2009
06:42 PM ET
14 years ago

Obama moves to limit impact of Bush signing statements

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="The president issued guidance Monday about the use of so-called presidential signing statements during his administration."]
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.

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. E. Elliott

    Well done and a further exapmle of why the Chaney/Bush regime was the worst in history. As Lincoln said, the law must be obeyed, even bad ones, until such time as you can change them. Shame Bush never was allow to read about that.

    March 9, 2009 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  2. Dan (Redmond, WA)

    A President that's going to pay attention to the Constitution? What's the world coming to?!?!?!

    March 9, 2009 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  3. science

    There's nothing quite like having a president who understands the constitution and the constitutional limitations of power on the presidency itself.

    (The educated elite nod in quiet approval).

    March 9, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  4. Evan

    A president who knows what the Constitution is, what it does, why it exists and why the American people respect it.

    Such a great change from the last 8 years.

    March 9, 2009 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  5. Death of America by Obama

    Impeach obama before it's too late.

    The man is an idiot and a disgrace to this country.

    March 9, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  6. Texas Teacher

    Yes, please.... the archaic policies of the Bush/Cheney administration need to all go the trip... out that is! Oh, but they surely did take care of their consituents, the wealthies of the wealthy! At least they were consistent there! The rest of us.... could go to Hel.... for all they cared and still do!

    March 9, 2009 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  7. Sam

    Go Obama, clean all the mess Bush put us all in

    March 9, 2009 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  8. Bikkuri

    He's effectively limiting his own powers for the sake of principle. THAT is what I call integrity.

    March 9, 2009 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  9. S Callahan

    Ahhhhhhhh....does this mean we are really back into using the 'real' constitution?!

    March 9, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  10. ib

    We need to Limit this clown signing statements. He is doing anything and everything he can to spite the conservatives. He is the poorest excuse for a president I have seen in my lifetime and I've been around for awhile. Have at me liberals I'm use to you sprewing hate starting to act like you.

    March 9, 2009 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  11. Denver Mom

    Give Hannity's translation to Obama saying that this process can be abused....


    ...But only I'm allowed to abuse it!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

    March 9, 2009 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  12. Bud

    It would be a "Change" to have Obama approach these issue with an eye to practicality. Why any President could be allowed to ignore laws is beyond imagination, much less reality. It's time we insisted that the law either is the law or not. It can't be applied on a whim. laws apply to everyone, including the President. If laws are ignored, especially with intent, there should be some jail time ahead for offenders. Bush should answer for his crimes and Obama should answer for any infractions he commits.

    March 9, 2009 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  13. Scott, Tucson

    And where is it in the Constitution that the Government shall provide Health coverage and buy up banks?

    March 9, 2009 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  14. Perusing-through


    March 9, 2009 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  15. C W

    YAY!!!!!! It is so great to have a President who actually understands the Constitution! Bush & Company so terribly misused that document.

    March 9, 2009 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  16. Chris

    Bravo! Spoken like a scholar of constitutional law. As opposed to his predecessor, who treated it like a piece of paper. Toilet paper.

    March 9, 2009 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  17. Mark, B'ham., Al.

    Obama reversing the Bush Executive Orders is just as political as the origional Bush Executive Orders!

    March 9, 2009 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  18. human being

    that elmer fudd of a former prez should have been limited on everything, not one thing was done constitutionally. He was elected by cheating, he lost our money by spending in Iraq, he suppressed science, never helped katrina victims etc...

    March 9, 2009 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  19. Randall in Torrance - The pen is mightier than the sword

    It should be a requirement that the President be intelligent enough to know what he is signing. Thank God President Obama understands what he's singing and what the long term impacts are likely to be. Bush, on the otherhand was clueless as sagebrush in a Cheney fart storm.

    March 9, 2009 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  20. texas teacher

    Obama seems to be nothing more than partisan these days. He is simply trying to be the opposite of Bush, just to please his radical fringe liberal base. Today's move on embryonic stem cell research was simply a political move to appease his liberal base. He didn't have to reverse that to have research on stem cells, as Bush already had that in place. He just decided to do it for his base. This will not change anything, however, when it comes to finding cures. It never has and never will. It is just reckless partisan posturing. What a way to bring the morality issue back into the fray. This will surely add to the conservatives uniting to defeat Democrats as they are once again over-reaching, led by Obama. After all, it was members of his own administration that said they must never forget to take advantage of a good crisis, (in this case the economy), to push through their agenda.

    March 9, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  21. actually has read constitution

    Tell me in the Constitution where it says the President is allowed objections to acts of Congress (besides the veto power), or even the Attorney General for that matter. Centralizing power in the executive branch is exactly the thing Framers sought to avoid, hence we have the judiciary. THEY interpret the Constitution and acts of Congress, NOT the President and certainly NOT the Attorney General. We allow this, and the next thing you know we'll have the President declaring war. Oh, wait....

    March 9, 2009 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  22. John in AZ

    The significance of this cannot be overstated. Obama, in a small way granted, is limiting his own power. For centuries, presidential power has only ever grown and the idea that any president would ever reverse the trend seemed naive at best. Incredible.

    March 9, 2009 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
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