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Presidential Documents

Please see the revised guide.

Updated March 2015.
Prepared by Peggy Jarrett; updated by Mary Thurston, Reference Intern (2015).

The most commons forms of presidential lawmaking are executive orders and proclamations. Generally, executive orders relate to the conduct of business of the executive branch and are directed to executive agencies. Proclamations are mostly ceremonial, although some, usually dealing with trade matters, are substantive.

For information related to access to Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis Advance and Westlaw, please refer to Access to Bloomberg Law, Lexis Advance & WestlawNext. HeinOnline is a UW Restricted source.


Research Guides

Presidential Documents (ASU Law Library)

Presidential Documents Research Guide (Georgetown Law Library)

Presidential Signing Statements Research Guide (Georgetown Law Library)

National Archives and Records Administration, Presidential Documents Guide
Describes types of documents and where to find them. The Presidential Materials guide provides links to and information about Presidential libraries (from Herbert Hoover forward).

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Sources

Compilation of Presidential Documents consists of the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents (2009 - to date; online only) and its predecessor, the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents.

Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, 1965-2008.
J80.A284 at Reference Area
Contains material released by the White House during the preceding week. Content varies, but may include statements, remarks, interviews, appointments and nominations, proclamations, executive orders, and communications to Congress and Federal agencies.
Available on GPO FDsys and HeinOnline (UW Restricted).

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, 1929-2010.
J80.A283 at Classified Stacks (except 1934-1944)
Annual series compiled by the Office of the Federal Register. Older volumes were edited version of material published in the Weekly Compilation. In 1977, the series was expanded to include everything from the Weekly Compilation, but starting in 1989 executive orders and proclamations were omitted. Instead, each volume has a table of EOs and proclamations citing to the Federal Register.
Available on GPO Access (1991-2011) and Hein Online (UW Restricted) (1929-2010).

Title 3 of the Code of Federal Regulations, 1936-date.
KF70.A47 at Reference Area
Contains all Presidential documents required to be published in the Federal Register plus a codification of regulations issued by the Executive Office of the President.

Hein Online > U.S. Presidential Library (UW Restricted)
Includes:

The American Presidency Project is an online searchable archive maintained by UC Santa Barbara. It includes executive orders, proclamations, signing statements, and veto messages. Good historical collection.

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Presidential Directives

Presidential directives establish a policy and may have the force of law. But unlike their better-known cousins—executive orders and proclamations—presidential directives are not required to be published in the Federal Register or the Code of Federal Regulations. Many directives have been classified for national security reasons.

The Federation of American Scientists website maintains the most comprehensive list of presidential directives available on the Internet. This site also contains a 2003 Congressional Research Service report on the history, variety, and sources of a wide array of presidential policy instruments: Presidential Directives: Background and Overview (Feb. 2003).

The Homeland Security Digital Library also maintains a collection of presidential directives.

Historical collections include:

  • A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (20 vols.) Covers through 1925.
    J81.B96G at Classified Stacks
  • Documents of the National Security Council (microfilm). Covers from 1947
    Microfilm A6617 at Suzzallo’s Microforms and Newspapers
  • Declassified Documents (index and microfiche)
    J83.A1 D42 and Microfiche M-2808 at Government Publications
  • National Security Directives of the Reagan and Bush Administrations: The Declassified History of U.S. Political and Military Policy, 1981-1991 (1 vol.). Available through Summit.

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Presidential Signing Statements

What is a Presidential Signing Statement?

After both bodies of Congress have passed a bill, it is delivered to the White House. The President then either signifies his approval by signing the bill or vents his objections by vetoing it. But in recent years, Presidents have added a new wrinkle by affixing signing statements with their signatures. According to a Jan. 23, 2006 article in TIME by Andrew Sullivan, Ronald Reagan issued 71 signing statements, Bill Clinton issued 105, and the current President Bush more than 500.

Legal scholars, pundits, and politicians have weighed in on the propriety and value of these signing statements in determining legislative intent, but let us here address the legal research question: Where are these signing statements found?

The primary source is the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents. This publication includes a wide array of material, including speeches, remarks, interviews—and signing statements.

You can find the Weekly Compilation in print, on the Internet, and through commercial online sources:

  • Print: 1965-2008. J80.A284 at Reference Area
  • Internet: GPO FDsys (from 1993).
  • HeinOnline (UW Restricted).
  • Lexis Advance: (from 2007 forward)
    Click on Browse>Sources> Within the "Search for a source" box type in " Public Papers of the Presidents"
  • Lexis Nexis :(from March 24, 1979 forward)
    Click on Research> lexis.com>Legal > Federal Legal - U.S. > Find Statutes, Regulations, Administrative Materials & Court Rules > Executive Branch Materials>Public Papers of the Presidents

Another source is the United States Code, Congressional & Administrative News.

  • Print: KF48 at Reference Area.
  • Westlaw: USCCAN
  • Westlaw: USCCAN-MSG (from 1986). A sub-file containing only the Presidential messages and signing statements that have appeared in USCCAN.

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