Lawyers should be cautious when seeking guidance in statutory interpretation from presidential signing statements. Reliance on signing statements as a source of statutory interpretation is controversial, as deference to the president’s interpretation, rather than interpretations of the legislature or judiciary, can lead to unlimited executive power. Signing statements can be retrieved from government resources or private vendors, and they are useful for advising clients how to interact with government agencies. In effect, signing statements act as orders from the president, which agencies under the executive chain of command follow.
Signing statements are also useful as sources of statutory interpretation when the president actively participated in the legislation’s drafting. However, when the president’s signing statement interprets a statute contrary to the legislature’s intent or presents conclusory statements mandating statutory construction, an evaluation of the merits must include the constitutional limits of the legislative and executive branches. Lawyers for instance, may look to the difficulties of drafting, application, or enforcement of the statute. While signing statements may be useful guides for statutory interpretation, it is worth remembering the legislature’s role is to make law, and the role of the executive is to enforce the law. To allow an analysis otherwise would risk encouraging the creation of a unitary executive.
- Presidential signing statement,
- statutory construction,
- unitary executive,
- constitutional limits,
- separation of powers,
- compilation of presidential documents.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/steve_sheppard/12/