Court Gives Clinton Line Item Veto
By Richard Carelli
WASHINGTON (AP) The Supreme Court today gave President Clinton the authority, at least for now, to veto specific items in spending bills unprecedented power sought by nearly every president over the past century, but attained by none.
The court cleared the way for Clinton to become the first U.S. president authorized to use the so-called line-item veto by ruling that six members of Congress lacked the proper legal standing to challenge the federal law that gave him such power.
The justices made clear, however, that the law could be challenged by anyone affected by a line-item veto once the president exercises that authority.
Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., author of the line item veto legislation in the Senate, said the high court decision "is a victory for common sense and fiscal integrity. There is no constitutional reason why the president should not have the same ability as more than 40 governors to line item out ridiculous and wasteful spending. This is a good decision and made our historic fight for the line item veto worth it."
Today's 7-2 decision set aside a ruling in which a federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional after finding that the six members could sue to challenge it. Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer dissented.
The judge had ruled that the law impermissibly shifted too much power from Congress to the president.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court that the six members of Congress "have alleged no injury to themselves as individuals."
He added: "The institutional injury they allege is wholly abstract and widely dispersed and their attempt to litigate this dispute at this time and in this form is contrary to historical experience."
Presidents have hailed the line-item veto power as a valuable tool for controlling "pork barrel" spending. On the state level, 44 governors have such authority.
The justices never had dealt directly with the issue of congressional members' legal standing to challenge legislation in court.
But members of Congress have not been shy in marching into federal court to challenge various presidential actions.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has allowed such lawsuits, and the standing question never before reached the nation's highest court.
In ruling that the six congressional members who challenged the line-item veto had the proper standing, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said members of Congress can challenge laws "that affect their constitutionally prescribed powers."
Today, the Supreme Court disagreed.
The lawsuit was filed by Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.; Mark Hatfield, R-Ore.; Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y.; and Carl Levin, D-Mich.; and Reps. David Skaggs, D-Colo.; and Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Hatfield has since retired.
The line-item veto law the only major provision of the 1994 Republican "Contract with America" campaign manifesto that Clinton endorsed took effect in January but had not yet been invoked by the president when Jackson invalidated it on April 10.
The law allowed the president to sign a bill and within five days still reject a specific spending item in it.
Congress could then pass a separate bill to reinstate the specific item but the president could veto that bill. Congress at that point would have to muster a two-thirds majority to override the president's action.
In his April ruling, Jackson said: "The dynamic of lawmaking is fundamentally altered. Where the president signs a bill but then purports to cancel part of it, he exceeds his constitutional authority and prevents both houses of Congress from participating in the exercise of lawmaking authority."
The Supreme Court agreed to review Jackson's ruling on an expedited basis. Arguments in the case were conducted before the highest court on May 27.
The case is Raines vs. Byrd, 96-1671.
© Copyright 1997 The Associated Press