Presidential Signing Statements
(Library of Congress Link)
This guide is intended to serve as an introduction to research on official pronouncements issued by the President of the United States at or near the time a bill is signed into law. Such pronouncements are called signing statements. They have been published in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (discontinued in January 2009) and the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. Signing statements have also been published in U.S. Code Congressional and Administrative News (West Group) since 1986.
The Executive Branch, which is headed by the President, is tasked by the Constitution with the duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." (Article II, Section 3). This language is often referred to as the "Take Care Clause." Congress passes laws and the President enforces them.
If the President feels a law is unconstitutional or otherwise ill-advised, the President can veto the law instead of signing it. At this point Congress can respond in various ways. It is also argued that the President has a duty not to sign a law which in a given circumstance would be unconstitutional, because the President takes an oath to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution. (Article II, Section 1). The U.S. Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of whether a law is constitutional or not (Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803).
Unlike vetoes, signing statements are not part of the legislative process as set forth in the Constitution, and have no legal effect. A signed law is still a law regardless of what the President says in an accompanying signing statement.
In 1972, after President Nixon in a signing statement indicated that a provision in a bill submitted to him did not "represent the policies of this Administration" and was "without binding force or effect," a federal district court held that no executive statement, even by a President, "denying efficacy to the legislation could have either validity or effect." DaCosta v. Nixon, 55 F.R.D. 145, 146 (E.D.N.Y. 1972).