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Federal Legislative History: Presidents: Signing Statements & Public Documents

About Presidential Signing Statements

Presidents may choose to issue signing statements when they sign bills into law.  Presidents use signing statements to comment on the law being signed; they may voice their refusal to enforce parts of legislation they consider to be unconstitutional or offer an interpretation and application of the statutory language.
The history of presidential signing statements dates to the early 19th century when the statements were a rare occurrence.  Their use has become much more prevalent in modern times, starting with the Reagan Administration.  All Presidents since President Reagan have issued signing statements, which increasingly have included challenges or objections to the law that is being enacted.
The use of presidential signing statements to aid in statutory interpretation has been debated in the legal discourse for decades. The concern is that presidential statements come from the executive rather than Congress, the body that passed the law.

Print Publication

The two primary sources of presidential documents are the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents and the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. Presidential documents published in these collections include, among other things, signing statements, proclamations, press releases and speeches.

The Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents (known as the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents until the Obama Administration) is the official publication of presidential statements.  Publication began in 1965.

The Public Papers of the Presidents is published twice per year with each volume covering approximately a six month period.  Publication of the series began in 1957 and spans from the Hoover to the second Bush Administrations.  Note that the papers of FDR are not included in the series because they were published privately before the series commenced. 

Locating Presidential Documents Online

Internet Compilation of Presidential Documents, which includes the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents, 103rd Congress (1993) to present

Law Library of Congress:  Guide serves as an introduction to researching Presidential Signing Statements and provides a selective bibliography of resources relating to Presidential Signing Statements.

The National Archives has uploaded the Public Papers of the Presidents for the Reagan through the Obama administrations. 

 Subscription Databases

HeinOnline:  Compilation of Presidential Documents

Lexis:  Public Papers of the Presidents 96th Congress (1979) to present

LLMC: 71st Congress (1929) to 107th Congress (2001), except FDR

ProQuest Legislative Insight: Selected, 71st Congress (1929) to present; access Legislative Insight via the law library landing page.

Westlaw: Other Administrative & Executive Materials


Public Papers of the Presidents (J82): 71st Congress (1929) to present

USCCAN (United States Code Congressional and Administrative News) (KF51.U45): Signing statements published in Legislative History volumes 99th Congress (1986) to present, in print.  USCCAN publishes selected legislative history information, in print and online.