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 ?
But when he became president, although he curbed some of President Bush's excesses, he adopted similar policies and extended some of them regarding indefinite detention, electronic surveillance, and signing statements.
In 2007 Senator Obama made this pledge: "I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law.
In addition, Palomarez will encourage the USHCC network of more than 200 local Hispanic chambers across the country to join with the USHCC in signing Statements of Support to support their chamber member employees who serve voluntarily in the National Guard and Reserve.
But the growing popularity of presidential signing statements threatens the exquisite constitutional balance that has endured for well over two centuries.
Obama had pledged during his initial election campaign to end signing statements as a back-door method of legislating (usurping the legislative branch's powers under Article 1 of the Constitution), warrantless surveillance (violating the Fourth Amendment), detention without habeas corpus (Fifth Amendment) or trial (Sixth Amendment), torture (Eighth Amendment), and excessive executive branch secrecy under the "executive privilege" and "state secrets" claims, and pledged that he would not engage in offensive wars without the approval of Congress (Congress' power under Article I, Section 8).
President Bush infuriated Democrats by using signing statements to distance himself from laws passed by Congress containing provisions he disliked or thought violated the Constitution.
He later proclaimed, "I will issue signing statements to address constitutional concerns only when it is appropriate to do so as a means of discharging my constitutional responsibilities.
Five chapters discuss domestic issues and compare their use of veto threats, their use of presidential signing statements, their environmental policies, and their approaches to executive/legislative relations.
Both Republican and Democratic Presidents have issued signing statements since the early nineteenth century.
The article on presidential signing statements, written by former Congressman Mickey Edwards, covers a vital issue, the current "new" usage of such statements.
Arlen Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, complained about the use of signing statements.
But it has finally become clear that the goal of these efforts isn't to win the war against terrorism; indeed, nothing about Padilla, Guantanamo Bay or signing statements moves the country an inch closer to eradicating terrorism.