A Republican House member from Georgia is wondering whether the White House violated the Constitution when it used an “autopen” to affix President Obama’s signature to legislation extending the Patriot Act on Thursday.
“I thought it was a joke at first, but the President did, in fact, authorize an autopen to sign the Patriot Act extension into law,” Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) said in a statement Friday.
Graves, who penned a letter to Obama on the issue, said he was concerned about the “dangerous precedent” set by the White House’s use of the autopen. White House spokesman Nick Shapiro confirmed to ABC News Thursday night that Obama directed that an autopen be used to sign the Patriot Act legislation, as the president was in Europe on an official trip and the Patriot Act provisions were set to expire at midnight Friday.
“Any number of circumstances could arise in the future where the public could question whether or not the president authorized the use of an autopen,” Graves said in his statement Friday. “For example, if the president is hospitalized and not fully alert, can a group of aggressive Cabinet members interpret a wink or a squeeze of the hand as approval of an autopen signing? I am very concerned about what this means for future presidential orders, whether they be signing bills into law, military orders, or executive orders.”
Graves added that he was aware of a 2005 opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel stating that the use of the autopen was Constitutional, but said he believed the matter was “debatable.”
Asked about the autopen Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not appear to share Graves’s concerns.
“I think that’s a better question to address to (the White House),” McConnell said at a Friday news conference. “They did the research and their lawyers apparently advised them that this was permissible. I haven’t looked at the legality of it and, therefore, don’t have an opinion to express on it.”
Graves’s full letter to the White House is below.
Dear Mr. President:
Yesterday, May 26, 2011, the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed S. 990, the “PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011.” Shortly before midnight, the White House press secretary released a statement that you signed the bill into law.
However, ABC News reported a statement from White House spokesman Nick Shapiro that, at your order, an autopen signed the bill.
Article I, section 7 of the United States Constitution states:
“Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it…”
Mr. President, I write to request your confirmation that S. 990, as passed by Congress, was presented to you prior to the autopen signing, as well as a detailed, written explanation of your Constitutional authority to assign a surrogate the responsibility of signing bills passed by Congress into law.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter. I look forward to your response.
Member of Congress