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 ?
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.
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.
The article on presidential signing statements, written by former Congressman Mickey Edwards, covers a vital issue, the current "new" usage of such statements.
A recent debate about the Bush administration's use of presidential signing statements has raised questions about their function, legality, and value.
Presidential signing statements have attracted considerable controversy and scholarly attention in recent years.
This article summarizes the Obama administration's evolving approach to presidential signing statements.
5) A 1993 memo by Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger concluded that the use of signing statements to announce nonenforcement of provisions on constitutional grounds "can be a valid and reasonable exercise of Presidential authority" and that "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" (Dellinger 1993).
The author provides a highly readable, impassioned argument about how the administration undermined the separation of powers and imperiled the rule of law in the areas of imprisonment and habeas corpus, torture, surveillance, and presidential signing statements.

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