It was the most expansive use of government powers after 9/11 and lawmakers like Sen. Rand Paul protested loudly against its passage, but with the quick scan of an autopen, President Obama signed a four-year extension of the Patriot Act.
Now Republican Rep. Tom Graves is questioning the validity of such a move.
The Georgia congressman, who voted against the Patriot Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, sent a letter to Obama questioning whether the president could legally “assign a surrogate the responsibility of signing bills passed by Congress.”
Obama was traveling in Europe and, with just hours left before key components of the extension expired, instructed officials back home to use the automated signature machine to approve the act.
The Constitution states that “every bill which shall have passed the House … and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a law, be presented to the president of the United States. If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it.” In 2005, however, the Office of Legal Counsel found that the president’s use of an autopen was constitutionally acceptable.
“I thought it was a joke at first,” said Graves in a statement.
The Georgia representative called the autopen decision “debatable” and raised concerns for the precedent that it has set, particularly in regards for some of the country’s most important pieces of legislation.
“Any number of circumstances could arise in the future where the public could question whether or not the president authorized the use of an autopen,” said Grave. “For example, if the president is hospitalized and not fully alert, can a group of aggressive Cabinet members interpret a wink or a squeeze of the hand as approval of an autopen signing? I am very concerned about what this means for future presidential orders, whether they be signing bills into law, military orders or executive orders.”
Graves is requesting a “detailed explanation of his authority to delegate this responsibility to a surrogate.”
While Graves has questions, President Bush’s former White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, tells ABC News Obama is likely “on solid ground” in using the autopen. He says Bush never invoked its use, though it was considered.
Obama is “taking somewhat of a risk that the autopen will be challenged in court,” explained Fleischer. “Using it for the first time on major legislation carries some risk.”