Signing statement

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A Signing statement is an official statement made by the President as he signs a bill into law that includes instructions to executive officials about how to interpret and put in place the new law. Such statements have been common since 1993.

While generating controversy they are seen by most experts as a legitimate tool of executive power because they are part and parcel of a given law's "legislative history," in that they reflect the administration's interpretation of legislation and because theoretically they can serve as executive orders to subordinate officials.


Liberals vehemently opposed the extensive use of signing statements by President George W. Bush after he used them to assert that he could authorize officials to bypass provisions that he considered unconstitutional in bills banning torture and in the oversight provisions of the USA Patriot Act. Candidate Barack Obama in 2008 denounced them as an abuse.


To the dismay of his liberal supporters, Obama has thus far issued five signing statements, claiming the authority to bypass dozens of provisions of bills enacted into law since he took office.

For example, Obama issued a statement signing a bill that funded the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank while requiring the administration to pressure the organizations to adopt certain policies. Obama's statement announced that he could disregard the negotiation instructions under his power to conduct foreign relations. In response on July 9, 2009, the House issued a bipartisan rebuke, voting 429 to 2 to ban officials from using federal money to disobey the restrictions.

Other laws Obama has said he need not fully obey include limits on whom he may appoint to a commission, and a restriction on putting American troops under United Nations command.

Further reading

  • Cooper, Phillip J. "George W. Bush, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Use and Abuse of Presidential Signing Statements". Presidential Studies Quarterly 2005 35(3): 515-532 online
  • Kelley, Christopher S. and Bryan W. Marshall. "The Last Word: Presidential Power and the Role of Signing Statements." Presidential Studies Quarterly 2008 38(2): 248-267
  • Savage, Charles. "Obama's Embrace of a Bush Tactic Riles Congress," New York Times, Aug. 8, 2009
  • White House Memo, "The Legal Significance of Presidential Signing Statements" (1993) online