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Obama Uses Autopen to Sign Fiscal Cliff Bill

President Obama used his autopen late Wednesday to sign the Fiscal Cliff bill, a move that will raise questions in the minds of some about whether the legislation and the massive tax increases included in it have actually become law.

autopenObama was forced to use the autopen – by which a machine puts his signature to the document – because he fled Washington for Hawaii immediately after the House passed the legislation Tuesday night, even though he had not yet received the bill.

Since the law was designed to prevent Fiscal Cliff measures that were beginning to take effect, it was urgent that Obama sign it, and so he used to autopen rather to receive the actual bill in Hawaii.

Obama ordered the autopen into action after reviewing a copy of the bill, according to the White House

The Constitution states that the president must review and sign legislation if he wants it to become law. From Article I, Secton 7:

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approves he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.

A legal opinion written by the Justice Department under George W. Bush states that use of the autopen would have been fine with the Framers.

Neither the constitutional text nor the drafting and ratification debates provide further guidance regarding what it means for the President to “sign” a bill he approves . . .

However, the word “sign” had a generally understood legal meaning  that was well established at common law when the Constitution was drafted and ratified and that  continued throughout the Republic’s early years (and beyond). Under this well-settled legal  understanding, an individual could sign a document by directing that his signature be affixed to it  by another.

Obama first used the autopen to sign an extension of provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.