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With Patriot Act About to Expire, Traveling Obama Uses 'Autopen' to Beat the Clock

Late Thursday night, the Patriot Act was minutes away from expiring. Although disagreements in Congress led to some members attempting to hold up legislative efforts to prepare a bill extending the Act, a bill was finally ready for President Barack Obama's signature in the waning hours Thursday night. However, there was a logistical issue: Obama was attending an international summit in France and was not in a position to physically sign the bill presented by Congress.

The Los Angeles Times reports that with minutes to spare, however, Obama found a way around this problem by directing that the bill be signed in Washington via an "autopen," thus beating the midnight Thursday deadline. The autopen is a "little-known and infrequently used device" that can hold a pen and sign a person's actual signature, the Associated Press notes. It may only be used with proper authorization of the president.

Does the use of an autopen satisfy the "Presentment Clause" of Article I, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution, which requires that before a bill becomes law it must be "presented to the President of the United States?" Yes, according to the Office of Legal Counsel. Odd Clauses Watch wrote last month that in 2005, the Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion confirming the President's authority to sign a bill in this fashion. The opinion (pdf) states that

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.

Posted by Bruce Carton on May 27, 2011 at 04:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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