signing statement

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signing statement,

written comment issued by the executive of a government when signing a bill into law. In the United States, such statements have traditionally been comparatively neutral declarations commenting on a piece of legislation in one of several ways: addressing the needs a given law serves, instructing subordinates on its implementation, making favorable comments, or disagreeing with a portion of the law. Signing statements have been used by presidents at least as far back as Andrew Jackson; some contend that James Monroe issued similar opinions. Occasionally presidents have, through signing statements, asserted their ability to disregard provisions of a law of which they disapproved or which they deemed unconstitutional. There was a considerable increase in the number of signing statements issued during the Reagan administration, a time in which these devices began to be used by the president to shape and influence laws and thus expand presidential power. All subsequent presidents, particularly Bill Clinton, have also issued many of these statements.

Signing statements did not generally become controversial, however, until the presidency of George W. Bush, who raised constitutional objections to more than 1,100 provisions of 160 pieces of legislation. In doing so, Bush contended that the president has the right not to enforce provisions of a law that he believes conflict with the Constitution. While Justice Dept. officials have upheld the legality of signing statements, many citizens, legislators, and legal scholars objected, asserting that signing statements amount to illegal line-item vetoes (see vetoveto
[Lat.,=I forbid], power of one functionary (e.g., the president) of a government, or of one member of a group or coalition, to block the operation of laws or agreements passed or entered into by the other functionaries or members.

In the U.S.
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) that Congress cannot override. In mid-2006 a bipartisan panel of the American Bar Association condemned President Bush's use of signing statements, maintaining that they often flouted the constitutional separation of powers, undermined the rule of law, and set a potentially harmful precedent. A 2007 study by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office was also critical of Bush's signing statements, stating that they had been employed to circumvent numerous laws. The opinions of the ABA and GAO did not alter the use of signing statements by President Bush, and the issue remains one of the most contentious of the Bush administration.


See P. J. Cooper, By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action (2002).

References in periodicals archive ?
Crabb, Comment, "The Executive Branch Shall Construe": The Canon of Constitutional Avoidance and the Presidential Signing Statement, 56 U.
Unitary Executive and the Presidential Signing Statement 57-68 (2003)
Bar Ass'n, Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine (2006), http://www.
President Reagan expanded the use and impact of the presidential signing statement, transforming it into a mechanism for the assertion of presidential authority and intent.
A recent debate about the Bush administration's use of presidential signing statements has raised questions about their function, legality, and value.
If scholars can disagree about the intended meaning of presidential signing statements, it is doubtful that a layperson can clearly discern the president's intentions.
Kelly in "The Unitary Executive and the Presidential Signing Statement," Appendix 3.
The presidential signing statement is commentary--written and verbal--that a president makes upon signing a bill into law.
Instead, any law receiving a presidential signing statement "retains its legal effect and character, irrespective of any pronouncements made in a signing statement, and it remains available for interpretation and application by the courts .
Presidential signing statements are obscure but significant documents that define how a president interprets the laws he signs.
This article starts with the idea that presidential signing statements are both directives and defenses--useful now or in the future for presidents, their staff and appointees, bureaucrats, and judges--that help determine how a statute is implemented and interpreted.
A brief sketch of the history of early uses of the presidential signing statement will show that early presidents used signing statements for rather benign reasons: thanking supporters, nods to constituents, or communicating executive favor or disfavor.

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