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 ?
Trump appended a signing statement arguing that the legislation was "significantly flawed" because it "improperly encroaches on executive power.
The concerns expressed in the Presidents signing statement are hardly surprising, though misplaced.
While there might be reason to object to the substantive constitutional positions adopted in any given signing statement, signing statements as such are mostly unobjectionable.
objections are constitutional in nature, the signing statement does
Obama objected to the broad provisions of section 1021 and issued a signing statement, arguing that it provided too much leeway for the U.
194) In negotiations with the White House over the Affordable Care Act, Representative Bart Stupak insisted that the President issue an executive order, rather than a signing statement, to promulgate his preferred interpretation of the controversial statute.
However, even though the President now wields this enormous power, he adamantly denies in his signing statement that he will ever "authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.
President Obama, in his signing statement, proclaimed that he was not necessarily bound by the law and listed three vague and potentially broad situations under which he might not obey it.
Although the president signed Senator John McCain's 2006 amendment to the military reauthorization act an amendment that outlawed torture he included a signing statement that allowed the continuation of prisoner abuse.
Unfortunately, within a week of that memo, Obama attached his own signing statement to the $410 billion omnibus bill.
President Reagan initiated this practice in earnest, transforming the signing statement into a mechanism for the assertion of presidential authority and intent.
According to Jameel Jaffer, deputy director, national security program at the American Civil Liberties Union, "The language of the signing statement is so obscure and cryptic that it's difficult to know exactly what it means and who should be most worried about it.