Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417; 118 S. Ct. 2091; 141 L. Ed. 2d 393 (1998)

Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417; 118 S. Ct. 2091; 141 L. Ed. 2d 393 (1998)

Facts—Congress adopted the Line Item Veto Act, which became effective in 1997. This act gave the president the powers to cancel “(1) any dollar amount of discretionary authority; (2) any item of new direct spending; or (3) any limited tax benefit” without vetoing the entire bill of which it was a part. After determining that such cancellation would reduce the federal debt and not harm or impair governmental functions or national interests, the president was obligated to send a special cancellation message to Congress within five days to be effective if Congress did not override such a veto by majority vote. The city of New York and health care providers appealed exercises of the Line Item Veto Act by President Clinton that would have cancelled a congressional waiver of monies it would otherwise have had to pay to the United States as derived from taxes on health care providers. Similarly, Idaho farmers’ cooperatives challenged Clinton’s veto of a tax benefit, which would have arguably made their purchase of new processing facilities less expensive. A U.S. District Court consolidated the cases, determined that at least one party had standing, and concluded that the Line Item Veto Act violated the presentment clause (all legislation must be presented to the president for his veto, subject to a two-thirds override by both houses of Congress). The U.S. Supreme Court expedited review of the case.

Questions—(a) Do the groups challenging the exercise of the president’s veto have standing? (b) Is the Line Item Veto Act constitutional?

Decisions—(a) Yes; (b) No.

ReasonsJ. Stevens (6–3). Both the city of New York and the Idaho farm cooperative stood to gain or lose depending on the constitutionality of the president’s actions. New York stood to pay additional taxes, while, if the veto stood, the farmers’ cooperative stood to lose a tax benefit that it would otherwise have gained in acquiring the processing facility. Both litigants accordingly had standing.

In reviewing the terms of the Line Item Veto Act, Stevens found that the law effectively enabled the president to repeal a section of legislation. The Court found that “There is no provision in the Constitution that authorizes the President to enact, to amend or to repeal statutes” (438). Unlike the veto specifically outlined within the Constitution, a line item veto occurs not “before the bill becomes law” but “after the bill becomes law” (439). This procedure bypassed the “‘finely wrought’ procedure that the framers designed” (440). Stevens distinguished such line item vetoes from mere “exercises of discretionary authority” (442) or the power either to decline to spend or implement tax provisions. Stevens concluded that “If the Line Item Veto Act were valid, it would autho rize the President to create a different law—one whose text was not voted on by either House of Congress or presented to the President for signature” (448).

J. Scalia’s dissent questioned the standing of the Idaho cooperative but argued that the Line Item Veto Act satisfied the requirements of the presentment clause.

J. Breyer’s dissent argued that the Line Item Veto Act violated neither “any specific textual command” nor “any implicit separation-of-powers principle” (469–70).

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