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ArtI.S7.C2.1 Overview of Presidential Approval or Veto of Bills

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.

Article I, Section 7, Clause 2 provides that once a bill passes both houses of Congress it must be presented to the President for approval or veto.1 This provision, together with Article I, Section 7, Clause 3, is sometimes called the “Presentment Clause.” 2

The Supreme Court has held that if the President wishes to approve a bill, the Presentment Clause only requires him to sign it. He need not write on the bill the word “approved” nor the date of approval.3 The text of Article I requires that the President sign a bill, if at all, “within ten Days (Sundays excepted)” after presentment. Failure to sign has different consequences depending on whether the legislature is in session, since the President cannot return a vetoed bill to Congress when the legislature is adjourned.4 If the President does not sign a bill within ten days of presentment while Congress is in session, the bill automatically becomes law. If Congress adjourns while the bill is awaiting signature and the President does not sign the bill within ten days of presentment, the bill does not become law. This is sometimes called a “pocket veto.” However, a President wishing to approve a bill is not required to sign it on a day when Congress is in session.5 He may sign within ten days (other than Sundays) after the bill is presented to him, even if that period extends beyond the date of Congress’s adjournment.6

The Court has held that a bill becomes a law on the date of its approval by the President.7 When an act does not specify an effective date, it also takes effect on the date of its approval.8 The Court has further held that a new law generally takes effect from the first moment of the day, fractions of a day being disregarded.9 If no date appears on the face of the roll, the Court may ascertain the fact by resort to any source of information capable of furnishing a satisfactory answer.10

The following essays discuss the veto power, including Supreme Court cases limiting the availability of line item vetoes and legislative vetoes. See ArtI.S7.C2.2 Veto Power; ArtI.S7.C2.3 Line Item Veto; ArtI.S7.C2.4 Legislative Veto. back
Because the presentment requirement is contained in two separate constitutional provisions, some sources refer to them collectively as the “Presentment Clauses,” e.g., INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 946 (1983). Article I, Section 7, Clause 3 requires presentment to the President of orders, resolutions, and votes approved by both houses of Congress. See ArtI.S7.C3.1 Presentation of Senate or House Resolutions. back
Gardner v. The Collector, 73 U.S. (6 Wall.) 499, 503 (1868). back
For discussion of cases concerning the return of vetoed legislation to Congress, see ArtI.S7.C2.2 Veto Power. back
La Abra Silver Mining Co. v. United States, 175 U.S. 423, 453 (1899). back
Edwards v. United States, 286 U.S. 482 (1932). On one occasion in 1936, delay in presentation of a bill enabled the President to sign it twenty-three days after the adjournment of Congress. L. F. Schmeckebier, Approval of Bills After Adjournment of Congress, 33 Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. 52–53 (1939). back
Gardner, 73 U.S. at 504. See also Burgess v. Salmon, 97 U.S. 381, 383 (1878). back
Matthews v. Zane, 20 U.S. (7 Wheat.) 164, 211 (1822). Subject to applicable constitutional limitations, Congress may specify that a bill takes effect before or after the date of enactment. See “Effective Dates” section of CRS Report R46484, Understanding Federal Legislation: A Section-by-Section Guide to Key Legal Considerations, by Victoria L. Killion. back
Lapeyre v. United States, 84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 191, 198 (1873). back
Gardner, 73 U.S. at 511. back