Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark asked the Supreme Court yesterday to strike down a legislative device that lets the House or the Senate decide unilaterally whether a wide decide unilaterally whether a wide range of government actions will survive or die.
The device, called the one-house veto, is in 196 laws affection the operation and funding of major Cabinet deparments and agencies.
The mechanism also is built into President Carter's proposal to grant him powers to reorganize government agencies and into the large pay rise set to take effect Feb. 20 for members of Congress, high government officials and federal judges.
The U.S. Court of Appeals here said last month that the dispute, involving a major constitutional power struggle between Congress and the presidency, is "momentous."
It did not, however, rule on the issue raised by Clark, who yesterday asked the Supreme Court to make a decision.
Specifically, Clark, represented by Ralph Nader's Public Citizens Litigation Group, asked the high court to invalidate a provision of the 1974 law setting up the Federal Election Commission that granted each house of Congress power to veto FEC rules.
That provision, he argued, violates the principles of separation of powers among the three branches of government. It also allows Congress to interfere with the independent, neutral agency that makes rules governing congressional as well as presidential elections, Clark said.
Last month in a 5-to-2 decision the appeals court refused to rule on the validity of the one-house veto in the election law. Holding that Clark had no "personal stake" in the outcome, the court majority said the controversy was not ripe for judicial determination.
Congress first enacted a law containing a one-house veto in 1932. Attorneys for the House of Representatives argue that if the veto device is struck down in any one law, all of the statutory and non-statutory programs depending on the device would be imperiled.
Such a ruling would create "chaotic conditions" throughout government and cause "disastrous consequences" to the constitutional system, they say.
But the Public Citizens Litigation Group argues that the one-house veto is fundamentally altering the balance of power in government by permitting a single house of Congress - acting without any role for the other house or the President - to write its own laws.
Presidents from Herbert Hoover through Gerald Ford have said the one-house veto is unconstitutional, although the chief executives have endorsed the device on occasion when they have sought broad new powers.
Last September, the Justice Department contended in the appeals court that the devive violates the separation of powers doctrine, improperly erodes the presidential veto and gives Congress excessive power.
The House of Representatives' lawyers, however, say that the Constitution's grant of power to Congress "to make all laws . . . necessary and proper" for the execution of its legislative duties removes all doubt of the validity of teh veto and bars the courts from reviewing it.
The claim that the device violates the separation of powers, they say, and proper" clause because the claim is rooted in an erroneous belief: that there must be total separation of powers of each branch.
The Supreme Court could decide to hear arguments of the merits of the one-house veto or judicial ripeness or on both. Or it could let the appeals court rulings stand.
In addition to the election commission case, three other one-house veto cases are pending in lower courts.
One of these cases was brought last year in the U.S. Court of Claims by 140 federal judges who claim the Senate acted unconstitutionally in 1974 when it exercised a one-house veto of a judicial pay raise recommended by Presidnet Nixon under the Federal Salary Act of 1967.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Griffin B. Bell told a congressional committee that the one-house veto in President Carter's reorganization proposal is constitutional. He did not comment on the validity of the device in other situations.