Is an Auto-Pen Signature a Signature at Law?

A group of US politicians are concerned that the President has not properly signed a law, a step described in the US Constitution, if his signature is applied to the relevant piece of paper by an auto-pen — whether or not the President authorized the application of the pen (being out of the country when the bill came up for signature, and things being rather urgent.)

Do you think this is right? I think it’s ludicrous, myself. My signature can be made by anyone I authorize to make it — or by a machine. Signatures made for me by other people or by machines may present problems of proof but not problems of *being* my signature or of the document being signed *by* me. A signature is just evidence of a link between a person (or some kind of legal entity) and a document. The purpose of the link or its legal effect cannot be determined by the form of the signature, whether handwritten, mechanical, or electronic, but only by the content and context of the signed document, or extrinsic evidence.

I suspect that some of the not-so-learned members of Congress have been in office long enough to have received their pay by mechanically signed cheques (no doubt spelled checks) and they just cashed them, rather than insisting that they be hand-signed.

Perhaps it is just possible that this expression of concern was motivated less by constitutionally founded doubt than by a desire to embarrass the President. That does not change the legal merits of the argument.

The President’s action was founded on a legal opinion done under President G.W. Bush in 2005, which in turn goes back to legal opinions from the early 19th century and case law back to Coke.

Would it be any different if the President had signed with the ‘long pen’, which transmits his actual hand motion of signing to a stylus marking a piece of paper at a distance?

[hat tip: Wise Law Blog]

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