Much Ado About Nothing: Signing Statements, Vetoes, and Presidential Constitutional Interpretation

23 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2016

See all articles by Keith E. Whittington

Keith E. Whittington

Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: July 13, 2016

Abstract

During the Bush presidency, presidential signing statements became briefly controversial. The controversy has faded, but the White House continues to issue statements when signing legislation. Those statements frequently point out constitutional difficulties in the new statutes and sometimes warn that the executive branch will administer the statutes so as to avoid those constitutional difficulties. This paper argues that the criticisms of signing statements were mostly misguided. Signing statements as such present few problems and offer some benefits to the workings of the American political system. While there might be reason to object to the substantive constitutional position adopted in any given signing statement, signing statements as such are mostly unobjectionable. Although it might be preferable for presidents more often to veto constitutionally problematic legislation, modern legislative practices have made the veto power less useful and rendered signing statements more useful.

Keywords: signing statements, presidential veto, departmentalism, George W. Bush

Suggested Citation

Whittington, Keith E., Much Ado About Nothing: Signing Statements, Vetoes, and Presidential Constitutional Interpretation (July 13, 2016). William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 58, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2809297

Keith E. Whittington (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1012
United States
609-258-3453 (Phone)
609-258-1110 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.princeton.edu/~kewhitt/

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