Czars and Signing Statements


The recently passed budget deal includes a bunch of policy riders, including one that defunds several “czar” positions in the White House. Czars have become a tea party hot button for some reason, so I guess a few of them had to get the axe. President Obama, however, thinks that Congress has no right to tell him who he can and can’t consult in the Office of the President. So he signed the bill but added a signing statement telling Congress to piss off. Jake Tapper:

“The President has well-established authority to supervise and oversee the executive branch, and to obtain advice in furtherance of this supervisory authority,” he wrote. “The President also has the prerogative to obtain advice that will assist him in carrying out his constitutional responsibilities, and do so not only from executive branch officials and employees outside the White House, but also from advisers within it. Legislative efforts that significantly impede the President’s ability to exercise his supervisory and coordinating authorities or to obtain the views of the appropriate senior advisers violate the separation of powers by undermining the President’s ability to exercise his constitutional responsibilities and take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Therefore, the president wrote, “the executive branch will construe section 2262 not to abrogate these Presidential prerogatives.”

In other words: we know what you wanted that provision to do, but we don’t think it’s constitutional, so we will interpret it differently than the way you meant it.

Actually, I’m curious about something here. When Congress and the President disagree about something like this, it’s up to the Supreme Court to adjudicate. But how does that usually work? Does the president abide by the law but sue in federal court to have it overturned? Or does he break the law and wait for someone to sue him? What’s the usual historical precedent?

UPDATE: The aptly named John Whitehouse reviews some history and concludes that Obama is in the right. However, he also says this just isn’t going to be resolved by the courts:

Under no realistic scenario is this going to go to the courts, short of someone actually depriving the czars from receiving a paycheck which they then sue for. This is not a problem for the court system. This is for Congress and the executive to work out alone.

I understand that this is a real possibility, since the Supreme Court generally doesn’t take sides in purely political disputes like this. That seems pretty unsatisfactory, though.

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