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  • Background on the line-item veto case

  • Summary: Thursday's decisions

  • Supreme Court Report

  •   High Court Strikes Down Line-Item Veto

    By Richard Carelli
    Associated Press Writer
    Thursday, June 25, 1998; 4:26 p.m. EDT

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court rejected a line-item veto law as the solution to the historic struggle for control of federal purse strings Thursday, striking down the power Congress gave the president to cancel specific items in tax and spending laws.

    President Clinton, who briefly held unprecedented authority over federal spending, said he was ``deeply disappointed'' by the highest court's 6-3 ruling declaring the 1997 law unconstitutional.

    Members of Congress pledged to go back to the legislative drawing board and try again -- even though the court's decision said the president cannot have such line-item authority unless the Constitution is amended.

    The law that was rejected ``gives the president the unilateral power to change the text of duly enacted statutes,'' Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court. ``We do not lightly conclude that (Congress') action was unauthorized by the Constitution.''

    Clinton was the first president to exercise such a veto, an authority sought in vain by most of his predecessors. He used the power 82 times last year, but Congress negated his veto 38 times.

    Thursday's decision did not spell out the fate of the 44 other vetoes, but opponents of the line-item veto legislation said those spending items would be restored to the current fiscal year's budget unless Congress takes some new action.

    One day before ending its 1997-98 term, the court also:

    --Ruled that a Maine woman who has the HIV virus but no AIDS symptoms is protected by a federal law banning bias against the disabled. She is suing a dentist who refused to fill her tooth cavity in his office.

    --Said the government can deny cash grants to artists whose work is considered too risque. The decision let the National Endowment for the Arts to consider decency as well as artistic merit is deciding who gets public money for the arts.

    --Thwarted Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr's effort to get the notes taken by White House aide Vincent Foster's lawyer during a meeting shortly before Foster's 1993 suicide. The court ruled that the attorney-client privilege of confidentiality survives the client's death.

    --Ruled that companies formerly involved in coal mining cannot be forced retroactively to help pay lifetime health care for retired miners and their families, a decision that will save those companies hundreds of millions of dollars.

    --Said witnesses cannot invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination based solely on their fear of being prosecuted in a foreign country.

    Reaction to the line-item veto decision crossed political lines.

    In China, Clinton called the decision ``a defeat for all Americans.'' He said the ruling ``deprives the president of a valuable tool for eliminating waste in the federal budget.''

    On Capitol Hill, Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., credited the invalidated law with helping balance the budget. ``The American taxpayers deserve this extra protection from wasteful and unnecessary spending,'' he said.

    But Rep. David Skaggs, D-Colo., praised the ruling for having ``saved Congress from itself.''

    ``The president is not a king,'' he said.

    Stevens wrote for the court that the law violates that part of the Constitution requiring every bill to be presented to the president for his approval or veto.

    In a remarkably candid concurring opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy acknowledged that the law ``will tend to restrain persistent excessive spending.'' But he added, ``Failure of political will does not justify unconstitutional remedies ... The Constitution's structure requires a stability which transcends the convenience of the moment.''

    Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg also voted to strike down the law.

    Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Stephen G. Breyer voted to uphold it. Scalia wrote for the three that, despite its name, the Line-Item Veto Act really did not authorize a line-item veto. ``The title ... designed to simplify ... or perhaps merely comply with the terms of a campaign pledge, has succeeded in faking out the Supreme Court,'' he said.

    The law is the only major provision of the 1994 House Republican ``Contract with America'' campaign manifesto Clinton endorsed.

    The law let the president sign a bill and within five days go back to reject specific spending items or tax breaks in it. Congress then could reinstate the item by passing a separate bill.

    The law had been challenged by New York City and an Idaho potato growers' group after provisions they sought were vetoed by Clinton.

    The city's officials sued to restore a provision that would have given New York state preferential treatment in receiving federal matching funds under the Medicaid program. The Snake River Potato Growers and one of its officers sued over the president's veto of a tax measure to allow agricultural processors to defer capital-gains taxes when they sell such facilities to farmers' cooperatives.


    © Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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