As a candidate, then-Senator Obama criticized the presidential practice of issuing signing statements indicating that the President would refuse to enforce statutory provisions that may conflict with (the President’s view of) the President’s inherent executive authority. As President, Obama quickly came to appreciate the value of such statements, though he pledged to use them more sparingly and responsibly than his predecessor. (See also here and here.)
Last Friday, President Obama signed into law S. 2195, a law denying entry into the United States those individuals who have been determined to have engaged in terrorist activity against the United States or its allies. The measure is primarily targeted at Iran’s new United Nations ambassador, Hamid Abutalebi, who allegedly participated in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
Although he signed S. 2195, President Obama also issued a signing statement indicating that he views the law as “advisory” and non-binding on the executive insofar as it might constrain executive branch authority over foreign affairs. The President’s statement, which largely relies upon the stated position of the Bush Administration on similar matters, is below.
Today I have signed into law S. 2195, an Act concerning visa limitations for certain representatives to the United Nations. S. 2195 amends section 407 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, to provide that no individual may be admitted to the United States as a representative to the United Nations, if that individual has been found to have been engaged in espionage or terrorist activity directed against the United States or its allies, and if that individual may pose a threat to United States national security interests. As President Bush observed in signing the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1990 and 1991, this provision “could constrain the exercise of my exclusive constitutional authority to receive within the United States certain foreign ambassadors to the United Nations.” (Public Papers of the President, George Bush, Vol. I, 1990, page 240). Acts of espionage and terrorism against the United States and our allies are unquestionably problems of the utmost gravity, and I share the Congress’s concern that individuals who have engaged in such activity may use the cover of diplomacy to gain access to our Nation. Nevertheless, as President Bush also observed, “curtailing by statute my constitutional discretion to receive or reject ambassadors is neither a permissible nor a practical solution.” I shall therefore continue to treat section 407, as originally enacted and as amended by S. 2195, as advisory in circumstances in which it would interfere with the exercise of this discretion.