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 ?
During the Bush presidency, presidential signing statements became briefly controversial.
House of Congress, recognizing presidential signing statements as a form
Bush's approach to the war on terror; whether presidential signing statements threaten the rule of law and the separation of powers; whether presidential oczarso undermine Congress and the Constitution; and whether the president has too much power in the selection of judges.
Bar Ass'n, Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine (2006), http://www.
Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe reported in early 2006 that "President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office," and a year later, the American Bar Association (2006, 1) released a report decrying "the misuse of presidential signing statements," urging a different course of action that would limit undue presidential influence.
But the growing popularity of presidential signing statements threatens the exquisite constitutional balance that has endured for well over two centuries.
Although the recent practice of issuing signing statements to create "legislative history" remains controversial, the other uses of Presidential signing statements generally serve legitimate and defensible purposes.
Within the ABA he has been deeply involved in rule-of-law issues as chair of three association task forces--on enemy combatants, domestic surveillance, and presidential signing statements.
President Bush has most directly signaled his literal disregard for the law by his use of presidential signing statements, hundreds of them, in which he has announced which features of laws duly passed by Congress--to which the rest of us are subject--he intends to ignore.
We also examined how the federal courts have treated presidential signing statements in their published opinions.
Though Mukasey is expected to easily win confirmation by the full Senate, Democrats and some Republicans were far from satisfied with his answers on torture, presidential signing statements and executive power.
Presidential signing statements are official pronouncements issued by the President contemporaneously to the signing of a bill into law that, in addition to commenting on the law generally, have been used to forward the President's interpretation of the statutory language; to assert constitutional objections to the provisions contained therein; and, concordantly, to announce that the provisions of the law will be administered in a manner that comports with the Administration's conception of the President's constitutional prerogatives.

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