Senate bill would restrict Bush from secret executive orders
Published: Friday August 1, 2008

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The President will no longer be able to change published executive orders in secret if a bill introduced to the Senate Thursday becomes law.

Sen. Russ Feingold, shown above, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse sponsored the bill as a response to an unreleased statement from the Justice Department Office of Legal Council that the President can alter or deviate from a previous executive order without public or Congressional knowledge.

Whitehouse quoted the department's opinion during a speech about the "second-rate piece of legislation" known as the FISA bill, or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new Executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous Executive order. Rather than violate an Executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it."

This means the President could extend his powers beyond the laws that restrict the executive branch without the public knowing.

In order to disallow the President from doing so, Feingold and Whitehouse created the Executive Order Integrity Act of 2008.

"No one disputes that a President can withdraw or revise an Executive Order at any time," Feingold said as he introduced the bill Thursday. "But abrogating a published Executive order without any public notice works a secret change in the law."

"Because the published Order stays on the books, it actively misleads Congress and the public as to what the law is," he said.

Feingold said the new bill would eliminate that problem by requiring a notice of any change within 30 days, though it "does not require the publication of any classified information."

"On rare occasions, national security can justify elected officials keeping some information secret," he said, "but it can never justify lying to the American people about what the law is. Maintaining two different sets of laws, one public and one secret, is just that -- deceiving the American people about what law applies to the government's conduct."

Feingold spoke out against the FISA bill earlier this month, trying to convince fellow congressmen that it would make it more difficult to hold the President "accountable."