The Line Item Veto.

For more than a century, United States Presidents had sought the authority to strike out of appropriations bills particular items—to veto “line items” of money bills and sometimes legislative measures as well. Finally, in 1996, Congress approved and the President signed the Line Item Veto Act.530 The law empowered the President, within five days of signing a bill, to “cancel in whole” spending items and targeted, defined tax benefits. In acting on this authority, the President was to determine that the cancellation of each item would “(i) reduce the Federal budget deficit; (ii) not impair any essential Government functions; and (iii) not harm the national interest.”531 In Clinton v. City of New York,532 the Court held the Act unconstitutional because it did not comply with the Presentment Clause.

Although Congress in passing the Act considered itself to have been delegating power,533 and although the dissenting Justices would have upheld the Act as a valid delegation,534 the Court instead analyzed the statute under the Presentment Clause. In the Court’s view, the two bills from which the President subsequently struck items became law the moment the President signed them. His cancellations thus amended and in part repealed the two federal laws. Under its most immediate precedent, the Court continued, statutory repeals must conform to the Presentment Clause’s “single, finely wrought and exhaustively considered, procedure” for enacting or repealing a law.535 In no respect did the procedures in the Act comply with that clause, and in no way could they. The President was acting in a legislative capacity, altering a law in the manner prescribed, and legislation must, in the way Congress acted, be bicameral and be presented to the President after Congress acted. Nothing in the Constitution authorized the President to amend or repeal a statute unilaterally, and the Court could construe both constitutional silence and the historical practice over 200 years as “an express prohibition” of the President’s action.536


Pub. L. 104–130, 110 Stat. 1200, codified in part at 2 U.S.C. §§ 691–92. [Back to text]
Id. at § 691(a)(A). [Back to text]
524 U.S. 417(1998). [Back to text]
E.g., H.R. CONF. REP. NO. 104–491, 104th Cong., 2d Sess. 15 (1996) (stating that the proposed law “delegates limited authority to the President”). [Back to text]
524 U.S. at 453 (Justice Scalia concurring in part and dissenting in part); id. at 469 (Justice Breyer dissenting). [Back to text]
524 U.S. at 438–39 (quoting INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 951 (1983)). [Back to text]
524 U.S. at 439. [Back to text]