The Supreme Court's decision yesterday to knock down the one-house legislative veto could ultimately make it more difficult for Congress to overturn some District of Columbia laws, according to congressional and city authorities.
The decision probably will have no immediate, direct impact on the way D.C. laws are made, but it does call into question the constitutionality of a provision in the home rule charter that allows Congress to overturn city criminal laws by a majority vote of either the House or the Senate, these authorities said.
That one-house-veto provision may be reviewed by Congress and possibly changed in light of yesterday's ruling, the authorities said, or the ruling could give the District a basis for challenging any future one-house legislative veto in the courts.
The home rule charter also gives Congress authority to overturn civil laws passed by the D.C. City Council, but in those cases both houses must vote to veto. The court may rule on the constitutionality of the two-house veto later this session.
In the decade since home rule was approved, Congress has used the one-house veto once, on a controversial sexual assault bill. It has exercised the two-house veto once, on a measure involving the location of chanceries.
Legislative aides in both the House and Senate cautioned that each of the many laws that contain congressional vetoes will have to be reviewed individually to determine whether and how the ruling applies.
They and city officials were sifting through the court's decision yesterday trying to evaluate what impact it might have on home rule provisions, and none said they could provide a definitive answer immediately.
"Potentially, it can upset the whole footing of the federal involvement in the legislative process under home rule," said one city official who asked not to be named. But it is unclear just how much the ruling could apply to D.C., he added.
Several authorities pointed out that Washington's situation is unique, because the Constitution specifically states that Congress has exclusive legislative authority over the District.
"The courts would have to weigh the unconstitutionality of the one-house veto against Congress' exclusive legislative authority over the District," said Julius Hobson Jr., administrative assistant to D.C. Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy.
Fauntroy called on the House District Committee, of which he is a member, to review congressional veto of District laws in light of the ruling.
Legal experts have said the court's ruling could strike down laws entirely if they contain a one-house veto, but the Home Rule Act includes a provision that says if any part of it is overturned as unconstitutional, the other portions remain in effect.