Article I, Section 7, Clause 2:
Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
The veto power grants the President a significant role in the legislative process; but, as with many aspects of the Constitution’s three-branch system of government, the Presentment Clause sometimes requires the President to compromise. At times, often in the appropriations context, Congress enacts far-reaching bills containing provisions the President believes to be beneficial or even necessary along with other provisions that he would not approve standing alone. Under the Presentment Clause, the President must sign or veto an entire bill. For more than a century, Presidents sought authority to veto certain line items in an appropriations bill while otherwise approving the legislation. Numerous Presidents from Ulysses Grant on unsuccessfully sought a constitutional amendment that would allow a line-item veto by which individual items in an appropriations bill or a substantive bill could be extracted and vetoed. Beginning in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration, Congress debated whether it could enact a statute authorizing a line-item veto.1
In 1996, Congress approved and the President Bill Clinton signed the Line Item Veto Act.2 The law empowered the President, within five days of signing a bill, to cancel certain spending items and targeted, defined tax benefits. In exercising this authority, the President was to determine that the cancellation of each item would (1) reduce the Federal budget deficit; (2) not impair any essential Government functions; and (3) not harm the national interest.3
In Clinton v. City of New York, the Supreme Court held the Act unconstitutional because it did not comply with the Presentment Clause.4 Although Congress in passing the Act considered itself to have been delegating power to the President,5 the Court instead analyzed the statute under the Presentment Clause. In the Court’s view, 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. The Court explained, however, that statutory repeals must conform to the Presentment Clause’s “single, finely wrought and exhaustively considered, procedure” for enacting or repealing a law.6 The Court held that the procedures in the Act did not, and could not, comply with that clause. The Act purported to allow the President to act in a legislative capacity, altering a law. But nothing in the Constitution authorized the President to amend or repeal a statute unilaterally, and the Court construed both constitutional silence and the historical practice over 200 years as “an express prohibition” of the President’s action.7
- See Line Item Veto: Hearing Before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, 99th Cong., 1st Sess. (1985), esp. 10–20 (CRS memoranda detailing the issues).
- Pub. L. No. 104-130, 110 Stat. 1200 (codified in part at 2 U.S.C. §§ 691–692).
- Id. § 691(a)(A).
- 524 U.S. 417 (1998).
- 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).
- 524 U.S. at 438–39 (quoting INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 951 (1983)).
- Id. at 439.