Republicans willingly acceded to the Bush administration’s agglomeration of new powers, Katamari Damacy-style, for eight years. Now that they’re out of power, the “unitary executive” seems to scare them more. Despite the fact that this sudden aversion to executive power springs solely from being in the opposition, I think that it’s a good position for Republicans to take. The Democrats did a terrible job of being an effective opposition party. Since the Republicans seem better at it, I strongly encourage them to fight for the things that I care about — like reducing the authority of the executive branch.
Arlen Specter, who probably won’t be in the Senate at all after 2010, has written a piece in the New York Review of Books explaining legislation he has written that will subject warrantless wiretapping to further judicial review, allow suits to be filed in relation to the warrentless wiretapping program, and prohibit federal courts from considering Presidential signing statements when making rulings. These all seem like sound ideas.
My main quibble with this well-intentioned legislation is that the point of signing statements is not to give direction to the courts, but rather to guide executive branch agencies in how to apply legislation, and this bill won’t do much about that. In the end, I think that signing statements will be limited more by political fallout than by any kind of constraint that the legislative branch can apply.