I AM today withholding my signature from H.R. 5446, a bill to implement the United States obligations under the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, 1972.
The bill includes a provision which I believe to be unconstitutional. It would empower either the House of Representatives or the Senate to block amendments to the Convention's regulations merely by passing a resolution of disapproval.
This provision is incompatible with the express provision in the Constitution that a resolution having the force and effect of law must be presented to the President and, if disapproved, repassed by a two-thirds majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives. It extends to the Congress the power to prohibit specific transactions authorized by law without changing the law--and without following the constitutional process such a change would require. Moreover, it would involve the Congress directly in the performance of Executive functions in disregard of the fundamental principle of separation of powers.
I believe that this procedure is contrary to the Constitution, and that my approval of it would threaten an erosion of the constitutional powers and responsibilities of the President. I have already directed the Attorney General to become a party plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a similar provision in the Federal Election Campaign Act.
In addition, this provision would allow the House of Representatives to block adoption of what is essentially an amendment to a treaty, a responsibility which is reserved by the Constitution to the Senate.
This legislation would forge impermissible shackles on the President's ability to carry out the laws and conduct the foreign relations of the United States. The President cannot function effectively in domestic matters, and speak for the nation authoritatively in foreign affairs, if his decisions under authority previously conferred can be reversed by a bare majority of one house of the Congress.
The Convention--which has already been approved by the Senate--makes important changes in the international rules for safe navigation. It will enter into force in July of 1977. The United States should become a party to it. If the United States does not implement the Convention before it enters into force, there will be major differences between the navigational rules followed by U.S. ships and by the ships of many other countries. These differences will increase the danger of collisions at sea and create hazards to life and property at sea.
I strongly urge the 95th Congress to pass legislation early next year that will be consistent with our Constitution, so that the United States can implement the Convention before it enters into force.
GERALD R. FORD