The so-called “Presentment Clause” of Article I, Section 7 says that before a bill passed by both houses of Congress can become law, it must be “presented to the President of the United States.” The President can then either sign the bill or veto it. But does the President have to personally sign the bill with his own very hands, or can he direct a subordinate to put the President’s signature on the bill with an autopen? What should happen, for example, if the President needs to sign a bill into law immediately but he’s in, like, New Zealand, maybe, or the Aleutian Islands? Well, the Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion in 2005 that confirms the President’s authority to direct a subordinate to put the President’s signature on an enrolled bill through autopen. Here’s the paragraph summarizing the opinion’s reasoning:
Our analysis proceeds as follows: In Part I, we examine the legal understanding of the word “sign” at the time the Constitution was drafted and ratified and during the early years of the Republic. We find that, pursuant to this understanding, a person may sign a document by directing that his signature be affixed to it by another. We then review opinions of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice and find the same understanding reflected in opinions addressing statutory signing requirements in a variety of contexts. 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. In Part II, we consider the settled interpretation of the related provisions of the same section of the Constitution that require that bills be presented to the President and that the President return to Congress bills he disapproves, and find that this interpretation confirms our view of Article I, Section 7’s signing requirement. In Part III, we consider practice and precedent relating to the constitutional signing requirement and show that they do not foreclose our conclusion.