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Presidential Signing Statements in the Federal Bureaucracy

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This Note examines the relationship between presidential signing statements and administrative decision-making over the Obama and Trump presidencies and from a variety of institutional angles, updating previous studies rooted in a narrow set of observations from the mid-2000s. It identifies occasions where presidents, agencies, and other Executive Branch actors have referenced statements in the course of justifying inactions, rules and regulations, and legal characterizations of executive entities. In moving the focus beyond a strict causation approach to measuring influence, which suffers from proof limitations and indeterminacy, the Note offers a more modest formulation of statements’ contextual and atmospheric role in shaping bureaucratic decision-making. It also brings these observations into conversation with debates over the interpretative uses of statements in separation-of-powers disputes.

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