VETO, LINE-ITEM. In 1996 President Bill Clinton received what presidents had wanted for many years, the "line-item veto." This gave the president the power to select out undesirable items in appropriations bills, in bills granting certain tax breaks, and in bills creating or augmenting entitlements to prevent those items from becoming law while approving the portions of the bill to his or her liking. The constitutions of the majority of the states give their governors some form of line-item veto, but the U.S. Constitution has no comparable provision.
Lawmakers agreed that a statute that purported to allow the president to literally strike some items from a bill would be unconstitutional since the Constitution clearly requires that the president either sign a whole bill or veto it, not pick and choose among its parts. Congress sought to circumvent this prohibition by allowing the president to sign the whole bill and within ten days choose not to spend the money allocated for disfavored projects or programs. Congress then had thirty days to reject the president's decisions. But to prevail Congress needed two thirds of both houses, since the president could veto any bill and a two-thirds vote is required to override a veto.
Congress was aware that the bill had serious constitutional problems, so it included a special provision allowing an immediate and expedited challenge by members of Congress. Members recognized that giving the president line-item veto authority undermined their powers as legislators. A lawsuit was filed, and the district judge agreed that the law was unconstitutional. The case, Raines v. Byrd (1997), went directly to the Supreme Court, which dismissed it without reaching the merits. The Court found that the members of Congress lacked standing, effectively holding the special standing provision unconstitutional. According to the opinion, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist with only Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer dissenting, the plaintiffs suffered no personal injury, and any harm to them in their legislative capacities was not the kind of injury that is a proper basis for a constitutional challenge in the federal courts. Although only a procedural ruling, it was an important victory for the executive branch because it had the effect of sharply limiting if not completely eliminating cases in which members of Congress can sue agencies or the president for violations of statues or the Constitution.
The president's victory was short-lived. A year later, in Clinton v. City of New York (1998), the Court agreed, by a vote of 6 to 3, that the constitutional mandate that the president either sign an entire bill or veto it could not be evaded in this fashion. Although the constitutional clause can be seen as merely a formal procedural requirement, the majority opinion, written by Justice Stevens, recognized the major shift in the balance of power between the president and Congress that would result from sustaining this law. One of the most interesting aspects of this decision is that the usual divisions on the Court did not hold. Two conservatives, Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas, were in the majority and one, Justice Antonin Scalia, who is often considered the most formalistic justice, was in dissent. The two justices often characterized as being in the center of the Court, Justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor, did not agree, and only Kennedy joined the majority. Justice O'Connor is rarely in dissent in major cases. Liberals were also divided. Justice Breyer, who is viewed as among the most pragmatic, was the sole dissenter among that group.
Watson, Richard Abernathy. Presidential Vetoes and Public Policy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993.
"Veto, Line-Item." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/veto-line-item
"Veto, Line-Item." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/veto-line-item
LINE-ITEM VETO. SeeVeto, Line-Item .
"Line-Item Veto." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/line-item-veto
"Line-Item Veto." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/line-item-veto