Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

November 22, 2006:



Michael Greco ’65 completed his yearlong term as president of the American Bar Association in August. (courtesy Michael Greco ’65)

Michael Greco ’65
Defending the Constitution

Michael Greco ’65’s yearlong term as president of the American Bar Association coincided with the emergence of two issues at the core of the Constitution, placing both him and the ABA in the national spotlight.

In December 2005, The New York Times reported the existence of a secret government surveillance program. And in April 2006, The Boston Globe reported on President Bush’s reliance on “presidential signing statements,” in which he signals his intention to ignore certain provisions within bills without vetoing them outright.

In both cases, Greco, whose term ended in August, used his role as the head of the 129-year-old organization to make statements on behalf of the legal community.

After both stories broke, Greco appointed bipartisan task forces that came up with recommendations. First, the ABA task force on domestic surveillance urged the president to comply with existing federal laws and called for immediate action by Congress and the courts. Last spring, Greco turned the ABA’s attention to Bush’s use of signing statements. For Greco and the ABA, the issue is that Bush, instead of vetoing bills he finds objectionable, signs them, but attaches to them statements indicating his intention not to enforce certain provisions.

While the 42 previous presidents collectively in 200 years have issued 600 signing statements, the current president in five years has indicated he will not enforce some 807 congressional enactments, Greco notes. For example, he says, when signing a law sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., restricting the use of torture when interrogating detainees, Bush simultaneously issued a presidential signing statement asserting that his power as commander-in-chief gives him the authority to bypass the law he had just signed.

Usually, Greco explains, when a president has concerns with a bill, he articulates his concerns, vetoes the bill, and sends it back to Congress for further action — with Congress either amending the law or overriding the veto. Bush has used his veto power just once in his presidency. Greco says that when used instead of a veto, a signing statement denies Congress “its constitutional authority to check and balance the power of the executive branch.” The ABA task force on the issue proposed several remedies to the growing problem, such as immediate legislative action by Congress and judicial review by the Supreme Court.

While the ABA task force recommendations are just that — recommendations — Greco believes they were essential in focusing the debate.

Having completed his term as ABA president, Greco is practicing as a litigator at the Boston firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham. As a lawyer, he explains, “you swear to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the U.S.” Looking back on last year, he says, “We were not taking on the administration. We were [defending] the Constitution.”P

By Kathryn Beaumont ’96

Kathryn Beaumont ’96, a freelance writer in Cambridge, Mass., is also a second-year student at Boston College Law School.