With the Senate and the House agreeing to pass the tax bill that averted the “fiscal cliff,” President Obama wanted to sign the bill as soon as possible. However, in order to do this, the president had to reach across the Pacific Ocean and the continental United States to accomplish his goal. Of course, this was not done literally and though there was a time that the president would either have flown back to Washington to physically sign it or have the bill flown to Hawaii where he is currently, thanks to modern day technology, President Obama directed that the bill should be signed using the White House autopen.
The president had interrupted a family vacation in Hawaii to oversee the cliff negotiations in Washington, and then returned on an overnight flight to Hawaii on Wednesday to rejoin his family. While he spent Wednesday engaged in a variety of different things, the president made the time necessary to review a copy of the cliff legislation, titled the “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.” Obama then directed that the original be signed in Washington using the autopen.
Though the device used to be reserved for signatures involving mass mailings, Mr. Obama holds the distinction of being the first and only president in our country’s history to use the device. The autopen enables the president to attach his signature to a piece of legislation without actually holding the pen. The other times he has used the device before was once to extend the Patriot Act when he was in Europe and the other time when he was traveling in Indonesia to sign an emergency spending bill.
Before Obama became president, some questioned the legality of using the autopen. That was settled when President George W. Bush commissioned the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the use of the autopen and being constitutional. The result was a 29-page opinion declaring it is legal. In a memorandum released in 2005, legal advisers to the President also concluded that the signature from the autopen would carry the weight of the law. The deputy assistant attorney general for the office of legal counsel, Howard C. Nielson, Jr., said, “We emphasize that we are not suggesting that the president may delegate the decision to approve and sign a bill, only that, having made this decision, he may direct a subordinate to affix the president’s signature to the bill.”