What's So Sinister about Presidential Signing Statements?


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We would like to thank Steve Smith, Gary Miller, Bill Lowry, Jamie Carson, and Tony Madonna for their advice and helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.


Presidential signing statements, especially “constitutional” ones, have been characterized as line-item vetoes and a general abuse of power. But are signing statements so sinister? We suggest that the popular unilateral powers framework, as applied to signing statements, is inappropriate and that signing statements of all types function more like a dialogue with Congress. Using content analysis of all signing statements from 1977 to 2010, we demonstrate that signing statements routinely address general interbranch themes rather than the substance of a law. We thus provide a new perspective on presidential signing statements as a continuation of interbranch dialogue.