The Presentment Clause and the Presidential Autopen

May 27th, 2011

The President signed a 4-year extension of the Patriot Act into law using an autopen, as he is France.

With Obama currently in France, the White House said the president would use an autopen machine that holds a pen and signs his actual signature. It is only used with proper authorization of the president. Minutes before the midnight deadline, the White House said Obama had signed the bill.

Is this an actual signature? Is this consistent with Article I, Section 7 (the Presentment Clause), which provides:

Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it.

According to OLC, the answer is yes. In 2005, the Office of Legal Counsel wrote this 29-page opinion:

Our analysis proceeds as follows: In Part I, we examine the legal understanding of the word “sign” at the time the Constitution was drafted and ratified and during the early years of the Republic. We find that, pursuant to this understanding, a person may sign a document by directing that his signature be affixed to it by another. We then review opinions of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice and find the same understanding reflected in opinions addressing statutory signing requirements in a variety of contexts. Reading the constitutional text in light of this established legal understanding, we conclude that the President need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill to sign it within the meaning of Article I, Section 7. In Part II, we consider the settled interpretation of the related provisions of the same section of the Constitution that require that bills be presented to the President and that the President return to Congress bills he disapproves, and find that this interpretation confirms our view of Article I, Section 7′s signing requirement. In Part III, we consider practice and precedent relating to the constitutional signing requirement and show that they do not foreclose our conclusion.

Guess that settles that, no?

I did a search of “autopen” in JLR and found nothing on point. I wonder if there are any opposing views.

H/T OddClauses

Update: Eugene Volokh considers the same question I addressed last night.