What happened? As far as I can tell, there were few high-profile national media reports noting the first official signing statement by this president. It could be my own “controversy fatigue” resulting from trying to follow this president’s executive actions has contributed to my missing this earlier, but at least I finally woke up. After more or less on a whim deciding to check for signing statements, I found this one.
I now have only a vague recollection of reading or hearing something about medical marijuana and federal law enforcement, but I seem to remember it as a decision of the Justice department rather than the president. Anyway, upon signing the appropriations bill to extend funding of the federal government, POTUS 45 attached a signing statement.
Before posting my thoughts here, I decided to do some cursory looking at some previous appropriations bills and any accompanying signing statements to see how frequently such statements were issued and to see if other presidents (and their legal counsels/Justice Departments) had objections with some of the laws’ provisions.
It turns out signing statements are fairly common for appropriations bills and it appears sometimes for very good reasons. Some provisions in these omnibus bills are obviously inserted to secure certain legislators’ votes in favor of the bill whether or not they are wise or even legal provisions. When provisions are unconstitutional, they should be flagged. Most often the presidential objections have to do with limitation of the power of the president. That is true of this signing statement as well.
However, this statement includes some sections that are less justifiable. For example, the following paragraph:
Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories. I will treat this provision consistently with my constitutional responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
I read this to mean “You (Congress) may say we cannot spend money to stop implementation of state laws allowing medical marijuana, but I intend to ignore that part of this appropriations bill under the guise of “faithfully executing laws”.
There are other equally or more alarming parts of this current statement. It makes me wonder why this was not a bigger story on May 5 and the days following. So far my best answer to that question is the media were too focused on the threats to shut down the government to pay close attention to the bill itself or the signing statement that came with it. It’s almost as if as soon as it passed both houses of Congress the media breathed a sigh of relief and moved on to other things.
It looks like I am going to have to pay closer attention to the Statements and Releases section of the White House website even if it means wading through a bunch of stuff of far less interest or relevance to my relatively focused blog.
Signing statement dated May 5, 2017