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Signing Statements Contrary to Separation of Powers, Says ABA

Signing Statements Contrary to Separation of Powers, Says ABA

By Edward McEneely

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3, 2012 — In a Dec. 30, 2011, letter to President Barack Obama, American Bar Association President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III expressed the association’s views that presidential signing statements are “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.”

The association’s House of Delegates adopted policy in 2006 opposing the use of signing statements as a method of disregarding or declining to enforce all or part of a law.  The report and ABA policy on signing statements was developed in 2006 by an ABA Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine, which reviewed the history and usage of signing statements.

Robinson wrote: “[w]here a signing statement is used to nullify a provision of law, the President is effectively usurping the power of the legislative branch by denying Congress the opportunity to override a veto of that law and may be abrogating the power of the judicial branch to make a determination of constitutionality.”

Where President Obama disagrees with legislation, Robinson said, he should make use of the existing constitutional authority that allows the chief executive to issue a veto.  Robinson emphasized that “…the ABA’s commitment to the constitutional principles of separation of powers and checks and balances leads us to reassert respectfully that a veto and not a signing statement is the constitutionally appropriate avenue for any and every President to respond to an objectionable provision inserted in a bill by Congress.”

The letter can be found here.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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