By Donald Scarinci | January 23rd, 2013 - 11:31am
| More

President Barak Obama wasn’t the first U.S. President to use an autopen when he signed the “fiscal cliff” legislation this month.  Presidents have relied on technology to help them perform their duties since the days of Thomas Jefferson.

Clearly a fan of technology, Jefferson was the first president to use the polygraph, a mechanical device that produced identical copies of handwritten letters. “The use of the polygraph has spoiled me for the old copying press the copies of which are hardly ever legible. . . . I could not, now therefore, live without the Polygraph," he wrote to a friend while in office.

As for its predecessor, the autopen, President Obama has actually used the device several times. It copies and stores a signor’s pen strokes for later use, which allows him to sign legislation without having to physically be in Washington, D.C. or having the bill couriered to and from his location. The President first used the autopen to sign an extension of the Patriot Act while attending a summit in Europe.

Of course, any time a President strays from tradition, questions of legality often arise. When President Obama first used the autopen, Rep. Tom Graves (R., Ga.) raised questions about whether the bill was truly “presented” to the President and asked for an explanation of its constitutionality. The use of the autopen, however, has never been officially challenged in court.

With regard to signing a bill into law, the U.S. Constitution simply states: "If he approve he shall sign it." It does not offer any guidelines regarding the means of signature.

When President George W. Bush was first presented with the option of the autopen, he asked the Department of Justice to prepare an opinion on whether it complied with the Constitution. As explained by the DOJ, “Neither the constitutional text nor the drafting and ratification debates provide further guidance regarding what it means for the President to 'sign' a bill he approves."

“The President need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill he approves and decides to sign in order for the bill to become law. Rather, the President may sign a bill within the meaning of Article I, Section 7 by directing a subordinate to affix the President's signature to such a bill, for example by autopen," the opinion concluded.

While its legality seems to be solidified, the White House still closely guards any information about it. Jack Shock, Bill Clinton's director of presidential letters and messages, once joked, "I always heard the autopen was the second-most guarded thing in the White House after the president."

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

 

Wake-Up Call

Morning Digest: September 23rd

Sources: pen/ben debacle going back to 2011 worsens Newark's woes They already knew the financial situation was bad in Newark - but it turns out it’s worse. In a conversation with the front office this morning in Trenton, Newark lawmakers expressed worry about the state’s relative sparse offering of...

Op-Ed

Legislation needed for publicly financed gubernatorial elections

By JEFF BRINDLE It is critical that the Legislature soon enact a pending bill that would ensure the state’s Gubernatorial Public Financing Program is available in the event of a special election for governor.  Not only is there no current legal... Read More >

Contributors

(Trenton, NJ) --  On September 23, 2015 I shall dig this up and eat whatever crow I've got coming, but in the meantime only a listicle... more »
Sports and politics do mix: Welcome the next NFL Commissioner, Condi Rice          There are many sports fans who insist on believing that old bromide that sports and politics do... more »
(9-17-14) Viral Video Prompts Questionable NJ Municipal Ordinance -  Socrates said, “While I might disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say... more »
 The following letter was sent today to Republican state legislators, county chairs, state committee members, and New Hampshire... more »

Quote of the Day

quote of the day

"Enlisting Fox is another reminder of how much Christie has truly relied on insiders, including Democrats, to bolster his agenda or bail him out of trouble. Not long after arriving in Trenton in 2009, Christie began collaborating with George Norcross, the deeply entrenched Democratic Party kingmaker, to help him cut deals with a Democratic-controlled Legislature.
When his close ally David Samson resigned as chairman of the Port Authority over conflict-of-interest questions earlier this year, Christie replaced Samson with John Degnan, a pillar of the Democratic Party establishment. And now, confronted with a crisis, Christie has turned to “Jamie,’’ as Fox has been known throughout political circles since he began as an aide in the Democratic Senate in the 1980s." - columnist Charles Stile

- The Bergen Record

Poll

Who will succeed Chris Christie as governor of New Jersey?:

Blogroll

Visit the PolitickerNJ.com/resources page for links to the best collection of information on New Jersey state government.

 

  • Polls
  • The best blogs
  • Columnists
  • State election results
  • Assembly election results
  • Local party websites
  • And more.

PolitickerNJ.com/resources