Obama Signs Into Law Non-Bill-Of-Attainder But Issues Signing Statement Saying He Won’t Enforce It

April 19th, 2014

I blogged last week that a bill, proposed by Ted Cruz, and passed unanimously in both houses, that would have denied a diplomatic visa to anyone who engaged in terroristic activity against the United States, would not be a bill of attainder, even though it was clearly directed at the newly-appointed Iranian ambassador who took part in the Iranian hostage crisis. The President signed that bill into law, but issued a (gasp!) signing statement saying he would not follow it. And he cited the practices of President George H.W. Bush. It’s only “advisory.”

Today I have signed into law S. 2195, an Act concerning visa limitations for certain representatives to the United Nations.  S. 2195 amends section 407 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, to provide that no individual may be admitted to the United States as a representative to the United Nations, if that individual has been found to have been engaged in espionage or terrorist activity directed against the United States or its allies, and if that individual may pose a threat to United States national security interests.  As President Bush observed in signing the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, this provision “could constrain the exercise of my exclusive constitutional authority to receive within the United States certain foreign ambassadors to the United Nations.” (Public Papers of the President, George Bush, Vol. I, 1990, page 240).  Acts of espionage and terrorism against the United States and our allies are unquestionably problems of the utmost gravity, and I share the Congress’s concern that individuals who have engaged in such activity may use the cover of diplomacy to gain access to our Nation.  Nevertheless, as President Bush also observed, “curtailing by statute my constitutional discretion to receive or reject ambassadors is neither a permissible nor a practical solution.”  I shall therefore continue to treat section 407, as originally enacted and as amended by S. 2195, as advisory in circumstances in which it would interfere with the exercise of this discretion.

Imagine that. A President referring to an Act of Congress, passed overwhelmingly across Party lines, as “advisory.”

I will wait for the ABA to condemn President Obama for issuing a signing statement. Never mind.

Hey, at least the President signed into law a bipartisan piece of legislation. That hasn’t happened too many times of late.

Update: If the President truly believed this law unconstitutionally infringed on his Article II powers over foreign affairs–and I think he and Bush 41 are right here–he should have vetoed it. The rationales for a signing statement are weak when the bill is a single issue. Perhaps if there are many parts of a bill the President likes, but one objectionable part, a signing statement may make sense (that is not what the ABA found in their report). But here, the Cruz bill only had one provision, which the President thought unconstitutional. This should have been an *easy* case to veto. But instead he signed it into law, only to promptly disregard it. I will wait for the ABA to condemn this lawlessness.