Today the President issued a signing statement regarding H.R. 4310, the “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.”
I haven’t written much on President Obama’s constitutional signing statements recently (those suffering from insomnia, see here , here, here, here, here, and here for examples from 2009-2011), but today’s installment is such a classic of the genre that I thought it warranted brief comment.
The signing statement is noteworthy in a few respects. It runs 1,173 words, and by my count mentions 21 provisions, which is a goodly number. That is pretty long as far as signing statements go, but it probably reflects in part the length of the bill he was signing. Things with names like “National Defense Authorization Act” tend to be long, and this was no exception–the bill ran 680 pages.
The signing statement also explained in unusual detail why he signed a bill he obviously considers flawed:
Our Constitution does not afford the President the opportunity to approve or reject statutory sections one by one. I am empowered either to sign the bill, or reject it, as a whole. In this case, though I continue to oppose certain sections of the Act, the need to renew critical defense authorities and funding was too great to ignore.
He then goes category by category explaining his constitutional (and practical) concerns with various provisions.
The thing I found most noteworthy is that the statement makes what would be classified as a “unitary executive” objection–basically, the legislation interferes with the President’s ability to direct the exercise of discretion by officials within the Executive Branch. But perhaps prudently, it avoids using that phrase, which tends to provoke a strong visceral reaction among some people:
Certain provisions in the Act threaten to interfere with my constitutional duty to supervise the executive branch. Specifically, sections 827, 828, and 3164 could be interpreted in a manner that would interfere with my authority to manage and direct executive branch officials. As my Administration previously informed the Congress, I will interpret those sections consistent with my authority to direct the heads of executive departments to supervise, control, and correct employees’ communications with the Congress in cases where such communications would be unlawful or would reveal information that is properly privileged or otherwise confidential. Additionally, section 1034 would require a subordinate to submit materials directly to the Congress without change, and thereby obstructs the traditional chain of command. I will implement this provision in a manner consistent with my authority as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and the head of the executive branch.
This is more developed than his last “unitary executive” objection (“The President has well-established authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch, and to obtain advice in furtherance of this supervisory authority.”), which can be found here.