Sunday, May 29, 2011


So, it seems that the Teleprompter of the United States, or TOTUS, has been joined by the Autopen of the United States, to be referred to henceforth as the ApotUS.

Anyone coming late to this issue is directed to the Google News page for "autopen", which does include some commentary as well as what passes for "straight" reportage these days. In short, because His Imperial Majesty the Hindmost was guzzling Guinness and dissing the Queen, he was not able to sign the recent Congressional extension of the patriot Act, so a device referred to as an "autopen" was used to afix a facsimile of his signature to the law.

The legality of using this device to "sign" a law seems to be is in question. Granted that the signature is indistinguishable from one which the POTUS would leave with his hands and a standard pen, what assurance is that he even knew he was signing it? Especially given the sort of "Pass to learn what's in it" philosophy that seems to prevail in Congress these days?

Several of the news items (here, here) quote "Then-Deputy Attorney General Howard Nielson" as having concluded that use of the auto-pen was constitutional--unfortunately, the years of this opinion ranges from 1995 to 2005--same name, same quote--and there has never been a Deputy US Atorney General named Howard Nielson.

Wikipedia's article on Autopen states that
On May 27, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama became the first president to use an autopen to sign a bill into law.[2] While visiting France, he authorized the use of an autopen to create his signature which signed into law an extension of three key provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.
So, just to review: The autopen has never been used to sign legislation into effect, and the authority quoted as saying that it is hunkey-dorey to do so never existed.

This post was inspired by posts here.

UPDATE: Fixed the links. The 1995/2005 issue seems to be a typo/editorial error, as both articles quote the same law professor, who does, however, make the "then-Deputy Attorney General Howard C. Nielson" claim.
The actual DOJ Office of Legal Counsel opinion is here, signed by "HOWARD C. NIELSON, JR., Deputy Assistant Attorney General". Which is not quite the same as "Deputy US Attorney General." Not sure where these errors originated, but I suspect the initials were A-B-C...
This may all be a Constitutional tempest in a teapot. Sure seems like a dangerous precedent, though, as indicated by the fact that President Harry Truman had an autopen device to sign autographs, and even used it to sign personal checks, but His Imperial Majesty is the first to sue it to sign legislation.

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