Obama’s autopen signs Patriot Act extension before midnight deadline

Paul Conner Executive Editor
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Isn’t technology wonderful? Yes, but is it constitutional?

President Barack Obama, or rather a machine impersonating the president, signed a bill late Thursday extending certain expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism law enacted in the wake of September 11.

Obama, 3,725 miles and six time zones removed across the Atlantic Ocean in France at a meeting of G-8 leaders, did not sign the bill personally.

Because directions from Washington to Deauville, France, are tricky (“We could not calculate directions between Washington D.C., and Deauville, France.,” claims Google Maps), an autopen replicated Obama’s signature, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro told ABC News in a statement.

“Failure to sign this legislation poses a significant risk to U.S. national security. As long as Congress approves the extension, the President will direct the use of the autopen to sign it,” Shapiro said Thursday afternoon.

A White House statement just before midnight confirmed that the bill is now law.

The provisions — including giving law enforcement power to conduct roving wiretaps and examinations of business record in search of terrorists — were set to expire at midnight.

Despite liberal and conservative objections fearing government overreach, the bill passed the House early Thursday evening and the Senate around 8 p.m., 2 a.m. in France.

ABC News pointed out that the issue of the constitutionality of the autopen was studied in 1995 and that then-Deputy Attorney General Howard C. Nielson confirmed that using an autopen to sign a bill into law is indeed constitutional.

“We examine the legal understanding of the word ‘sign’ at the time the Constitution was drafted and ratified and during the early years of the Republic,” Nielson wrote in an Office of Legal Counsel opinion. “We find that, pursuant to this understanding, a person may sign a document by directing that his signature be affixed to it by another. … Reading the constitutional text in light of this established legal understanding, we conclude that the President need not personally perform the physical act of affixing his signature to a bill to sign it within the meaning of Article I, Section 7 [of the Constitution.]”

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, challenged the notion on the Senate floor that the federal government should be allowed to conduct wiretaps and peruse business records, saying that it is a violation of personal liberties.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who chose to stay in Washington rather than fly to Iowa for a fundraiser, acknowledged that her office had received numerous pleas to vote against the bill. She spent five minutes on the House floor explaining her “yes” vote.

“We have had calls, we’ve had requests on our Facebook, Twitter and on our email urging a no vote tonight on the Patriot Act,” she said on the floor. “I cast a yes vote on this act.”