By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
The new anti-torture law written by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody, became a topic of discussion during Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s confirmation hearings yesterday, when Alito was asked whether the president has the authority to ignore such a law.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) argued that President Bush essentially wrote in a signing statement late last month that he could circumvent the law because of his authority to supervise "the unitary executive branch," potentially opening the door for him to allow torture. Kennedy accused Alito of supporting such signing statements "to limit the scope of laws passed by Congress," and he pointed to language the judge used when advising President Ronald Reagan.
"You've suggested that the court should give a president's signing statement great deference in determining the meaning and the intent of the law and argued, as a matter of your own political and judicial philosophy, for an almost all-powerful presidency," Kennedy said. "Time and again, even in routine matters involving average Americans, you give enormous, almost total deference to the exercise of governmental power."
Alito said such power exists "to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, not some inherent power, but a power that is explicitly set out in the Constitution."
The White House has emphasized that the president will abide by the new law against torture, but Bush's statement left vague whether a loophole exists.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and McCain last week responded to the president's signing statement.
"The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation," Warner and McCain said in a joint statement last week. "Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration's implementation of the new law."