Obama’s use of the signing statement has been indistinguishable from that of Bush. “The volume is a little less,” said Bruce Fein, who was a member of the ABA panel. “His conception of executive power is equally as grandiose as Bush.”
The growth of presidential power in recent years represents a serious threat to representative government. The idea of the executive “executing” the laws passed by the elected representatives of the people in the Congress seems to those in power, whether Republicans or Democrats, to be an old-fashioned notion.
When Obama unilaterally called a halt to deportation proceedings for certain unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors, the eligibility requirements roughly tracked the requirements of the Dream Act, which had not been passed by Congress.
In an interview with a panel of Latino journalists, the president said: “The notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true. We live in a democracy. You have to pass bills through the legislature, and then I can sign it.”
Gene Healy, Vice President of the Cato Institute, notes: “As it happens, Obama’s ‘royal dispensation’ for young immigrants is hardly the most terrifying instance of administration unilateralism. In fact, as a policy matter, it’s a humane and judicious use of prosecutorial resources. But given the context, it stinks. It looks uncomfortably like implementing parts of a bill that didn’t pass and, carried out as it was with great fanfare and an eye to the impending election, the move sits uneasily with the president’s constitutional responsibility to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed.’”
Another example is the president’s claim of “executive privilege” in withholding information about the Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious, which deliberately put assault weapons in the hands of Mexican drug cartels as part of a sting and then lost track of hundreds of them. A Border Patrol agent was killed in 2010, apparently by one of these guns.
Executive privilege, affirmed by the U. S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Nixon, is historically limited to the president’s own discussions. President Obama has now extended it to his attorney general. This act contravenes the president’s promises of transparency.
Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on the suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or “associated forces,” a broad, vague power that can be abused without real oversight from the courts or the Congress.
At the same time, American citizens can now be targeted for assassination or indefinite detention. Recent laws have also canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our right to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications.
According to The New York Times, Obama has been personally deciding upon drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia and the riskiest ones in Pakistan, assisted only by his own aides. Editorially, The Times declares that no president “… should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield, depriving Americans of their due process rights, without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle. How can the world know whether this president or a successor truly pursued all methods short of assassination, or instead, to avoid a political charge of weakness, built up a tough-sounding list of kills?”
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