Obama uses autopen, again, to sign bill into law

CBS/White House photo

Signed letter from President Obama
A view of President Obama's real signature, at left, and his signature via autopen, at right.
CBS

For the second time, President Obama has authorized the use of his autopen to sign a bill into law in his absence.

From Bali in Indonesia, where he's holding talks with Asian/Pacific leaders, Mr. Obama consented that his name be affixed by robotic device to an appropriations bill to fund a number of government departments and agencies through the end of the fiscal year.

The measure also provides stopgap funding for other parts of the government through December 16th. Funding for those departments and agencies of the government would otherwise run out at midnight tonight. Mr. Obama doesn't return to the U.S. until early Sunday morning.

In past administrations, the White House would occasionally fly bills passed by Congress to wherever in the world the president was so he could sign them by hand.

But with time running out before the funding deadline, Mr. Obama authorized the use of the autopen to sign the bill in his place.

It's the second time he has used the autopen for this purpose.

From Deauville, France on May 26th this year, where he was attending the G8 Summit, Mr. Obama first authorized the use of the autopen to sign a Patriot Act extension measure into law before parts of the existing law expired.

Article 1, Section 7 of The Constitution says that if a president approves a bill "he shall sign it." No provision is made for having a substitute signature affixed by a mechanical device - or a designated aide.

But the White House has defended the practice citing a 2005 opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

At the end of a 29-page review that includes obscure legal references and frequent citations to common lawn, the Counsel's office came to this conclusion:

"...the President need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill he approves and decides to sign in order for the bill to become law. Rather, the President may sign a bill within the meaning of Article I, Section 7 by directing a subordinate to affix the President's signature to such a bill, for example by autopen."

But the opinion has yet to be challenged in court.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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