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What Is a Signing Ceremony?

By Gregory Hanson
Updated May 23, 2024
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A signing ceremony is a formal occasion at which a significant document is formally signed. These ceremonies are most commonly associated with the formal signing into effect by a president, governor, or similar official of laws passed by a legislative body, and are part of the political culture of most democracies. A signing ceremony may be used in other contexts where the formal signing of a document might merit the attention of the press, the historical record, or the public. All signing ceremonies are typically carefully planned, scripted, and managed.

Some of the most famous signing ceremonies are those that take place when a president formally signs a bill into law. The passage of major pieces of legislation is normally advertised with great pomp and ceremony. Favored political allies or symbolically important members of the public are often invited to attend this type of signing ceremony. Other favored allies may be rewarded with mementos of the signing process, such as pens used in the signing.

In some cases, this type of signing ceremony may produce controversy. Presidents of both parties, and executives in many other settings, often face accusations of using such ceremonies as occasions for grandstanding and empty political theater. United States Presidents have also faced questions about their use of signing statements. A signing statement, which is issued contemporaneously with newly-signed laws, specifies the precise way in which the executive wishes to enforce a new law. Controversy arises when a President uses such statements in a way that may be perceived to undermine the actual intent of the law.

Governors and other executives also frequently stage signing ceremonies, with the same general goals. They too are often accused of staging political theater. The use of line-item veto power by executives can further complicate a signing ceremony. Unlike the President of the United States, many other executives have the authority to ratify only selected portions of a piece of legislation. This, in some cases, can also distort the original intent of legislation. Sometimes, line-item veto power may even give an executive the controversial power to effectively re-write legislation by selectively vetoing individual words.

The use of signing ceremonies is not limited to the realm of politics. Any solemn occasion at which documents are signed may be turned into a signing ceremony. These occasions range from the ratification of treaties to the acceptance of contracts in the world of professional sports. The underlying purpose of these ceremonies is usually still to generate publicity and to create a historical record of events.

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