Presidential Signing Statements


When Presidents sign bills into law, they sometimes issue written statements expressing their views on those bills. These written statements are known as “presidential signing statements.” Some presidents often use signing statements to express their intention not to enforce parts of legislation that they consider to be unconstitutional. Presidents have also long used signing statements when a law passed by Congress has provisions they do not like, yet they are not inclined to veto it.  There are many scholars that consider such use a form of illegal line item veto.  The use of signing statements can be traced as far back as the nineteenth century.  While Hamiltons Federalist 73 talks of the constitutionally provided veto power for a president, many believe it's discussion also includes the use of signing statements.       

President George W. Bush has used presidential signing statements to state his intent to refuse to enforce provisions of laws passed by Congress more often than all 42 of his predecessors' combined.   The second most use was by his predecessor  William Clinton.  In the ACS issue brief found below, Professor Neil Kinkopf of Georgia State University College of Law discusses whether and when the President may refuse to enforce a law that the President regards as unconstitutional. Professor Kinkopf suggests that, among other things, such refusal stands in deep tension with the Constitution, and can actually prevent the resolution of questions about the constitutionality of a statute. He also notes that it challenges the power of the other two branches: both Congress, which enacted the measures; and the Courts, charged ultimately with determining their constitutionality. He shows that the assertion of this power has become such common practice in the current Administration that many of the objections are simply boilerplate. Finally, Professor Kinkopf concludes that, "[i]f the President may dispense with application of laws by concocting a constitutional objection, we will quickly cease to live under the rule of law."       Former presidential counsel, John Dean shares Professor Kinkopf's concerns.

Incidentally, don't look for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to vote against Bush's signing statements - he wrote a 1986 memo suggesting fuller use of presidential signing statements to strengthen the office.  That is one of the reasons he was chosen by President Bush.



Signing Statements Research Guide

Prepared by Georgetown University Law Library, this is a great tool for finding articles, DOJ memorandum, history, etc etc.


Legal Significance of Signing Statements

Memorandum from Walter Dellinger - Head of the Office of Legal Counsel to Bernard Nussbaum, Counsel to the President (1993)



Presidential Authority To Decline To Execute Unconstitutional Statutes

Memorandum prepared for Abner Mikva then Counsel to President Clinton from the head of the Office of Legal Counsel - Walter Dellinger.(1994)

The memorandum traces the history of signing statements and the constitutional authority for them.



 Boston Globe series on Signing Statements

Charlie Savage, a reporter for The Boston Globe's Washington, D.C., bureau, was awarded a 2007 Pulitzer Prize for his work on presidential signing statements.
Charlie is also the author of "Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy"


Problem With Presidential Signing Statements
"The Problem with Presidential Signing Statements: Their Use and Misuse by the Bush Administration."  by John W. Dean,  former counsel to President Nixon.

Mr. Dean discusses some of the constitutional problems he sees with the extended use of signing statements.

© Findlaw's Writ



Issue Brief on Signing Statements - American Constitution Society

"Signing Statements and the President’s Authority to Refuse to Enforce the Law,"
Professor Neil Kinkopf of Georgia State University College of Law



American Bar Association Report on Signing Statements (2006)

Presidential signing statements that assert President Bush’s authority to disregard or decline to enforce laws adopted by Congress undermine the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers, according to a report released by a blue-ribbon American Bar Association task force.

To address these concerns, the task force urges Congress to adopt legislation enabling its members to seek court review of signing statements that assert the President’s right to ignore or not enforce laws passed by Congress, and urges the President to veto bills he feels are not constitutional.



Executive Privilege and Signing Statements

Outline by Peter M Shane, Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University


List and Text of George W. Bush's Signing Statements

A list and copies of all signing statements issued by Pres. George W. Bush 2001 - present.


List and Text of Barack Obama's Signing Statements

A list and copies of all signing statements issued by Pres. Barack Obama 2009 - present.