Presidential Signing Statements: Constitutional and Institutional Implications
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS WASHINGTON DC CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
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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 Presidents 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 Administrations conception of the Presidents constitutional prerogatives. While the history of presidential issuance of signing statements dates to the early 19th century, the practice has become the source of significant controversy in the modern era as Presidents have increasingly employed the statements to assert constitutional objections to congressional enactments. The number and scope of such assertions in the George W. Bush Administration, in particular, has given rise to extensive debate over the issuance of signing statements, with the American Bar Association ABA recently publishing a report declaring that these instruments are contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional separation of powers when they claim the authority or state the intention to disregard or decline to enforce all or part of a law...or to interpret such a law in a manner inconsistent with the clear intent of Congress. However, in analyzing the constitutional basis for, and legal effect of, presidential signing statements, it becomes apparent that no constitutional or legal deficiencies adhere to the issuance of such statements in and of themselves. It seems evident that the issues involved center not on the simple issue of signing statements, but rather on the view of presidential authority that governs the substantive actions of the Administration in question. This report focuses on the use of signing statements by recent Administrations, with particular emphasis on the current Administration.
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