Obama Uses New Tactic to Ignore Laws

January 23, 2010

The easiest way for a U.S. President to object laws passed by Congress is to veto it. Another method the President can consider is called a Signing Statement. This allows laws to be ignored if they are considered to be unconstitutional or if they “interfere with his ability to conduct foreign policy.” The Signing Statement can be issued at the time the President signs a bill or within a short period following the signing. George W. Bush, a big proponent of the Signing Statement, used the mechanism a number of times during his term as President.

When Bush used the tactic, the Grand Old Party was in full support of his actions and always defended him to the hilt. However, Obama’s use of the Signing Statement has come in for criticism, and not surprisingly by the Republican Party. To circumvent this, Obama is taking a page out of his predecessor’s book which allows him to do exactly what a Signing Statement does without one being issued.

Recently, a bill barred State Department officials from being present at UN meetings chaired by nations that are considered by the U.S. to be state sponsors of terrorism. Obama chose not to use a Signing Statement to oppose this but instead turned to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) of the Department of Justice to obtain their opinion on the matter. The expectation was that the OLC would deem the bill to be unconstitutional. The reason for involving the OLC is that its opinions are never published and as such the approach can be termed “secretive”. To put it in perspective, OLC opinions were responsible for allowing Bush to employ torture tactics against suspected terrorists.

The use of this new approach is expected to keep fights with Congress out of the public’s eye. However, this means that observers will not be able to keep a count of bills signed by Obama that have “conditions” attached.