Presidential Documents

The president has the constitutional and statutory authority to issue executive orders and proclamations. Other official presidential communications, such as "signing statements" made when signing a bill into law, or explanations of vetoes or proposed legislation, may also be of interest to legal researchers. A signing statement, for example, is generally considered part of a statute's legislative history even though it comes from the president and not Congress.

Proclamations and Executive Orders

 Proclamations are formal public announcements, often relating to ceremonial or celebratory occasions, that can also have significant legal consequences. Executive orders have the force of law and generally direct an agency or official to take a specific action. For example, an executive order created the plan of succession for the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition to the two general compilations of presidential documents described below (i.e., the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States), the primary sources of presidential proclamations and executive orders are as follows:

Signing Statements and Other Presidential Statements Regarding Legislation

When the president issues a statement in connection with his approval or veto of a bill, or when transmitting proposed legislation to Congress, this statement will appear in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and eventually the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States (see below). Presidential signing statements are also included in the United States Code Congressional and Administrative News. Legislative communications other than signing statements, such as veto messages and statements regarding proposed legislation, are generally published in the Congressional Record and as House documents. 

Compilations of Presidential Documents

There are two official compilations of Presidential documents: the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents and the Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States.

The Weekly Compilation began in 1965 and is issued by the Office of the Federal Register every Monday. It includes proclamations, executive orders, signing statements, veto messages, communications made by the president to Congress, and other materials released by the White House during the previous week. The Weekly Compilation is currently indexed on a quarterly and annual basis, and each weekly issue includes a table of contents.

The Public Papers begins with the papers of President Hoover, but does not include the papers of Franklin Roosevelt, which were privately printed prior to the start of the Public Papers of the Presidents series. Since 1977, the Public Papers have included everything contained in the Weekly Compilation, although beginning in 1989 the Public Papers stopped reproducing the full-text of proclamations and executive orders. It now lists them and provides citations to the Federal Register.

The Bluebook states that the preferred citation is to the Public Papers for a document that appears in both publications, although there is generally a lag time of a few years before documents first published in the Weekly Compilation will appear in the Public Papers.

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