Signing Bills Goes High-Tech With “Autopen”

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President Barak Obama wasn’t the first U.S. President to use an autopen when he signed the “fiscal cliff” legislation this month.  Presidents have relied on technology to help them perform their duties since the days of Thomas Jefferson.

Clearly a fan of technology, Jefferson was the first president to use the polygraph, a mechanical device that produced identical copies of handwritten letters. “The use of the polygraph has spoiled me for the old copying press the copies of which are hardly ever legible. . . . I could not, now therefore, live without the Polygraph," he wrote to a friend while in office.

As for its predecessor, the autopen, President Obama has actually used the device several times. It copies and stores a signor’s pen strokes for later use, which allows him to sign legislation without having to physically be in Washington, D.C. or having the bill couriered to and from his location. The President first used the autopen to sign an extension of the Patriot Act while attending a summit in Europe.

Of course, any time a President strays from tradition, questions of legality often arise. When President Obama first used the autopen, Rep. Tom Graves (R., Ga.) raised questions about whether the bill was truly “presented” to the President and asked for an explanation of its constitutionality. The use of the autopen, however, has never been officially challenged in court.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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