A Brief History
On June 25, 1998, the US Supreme Court voted 6-3 to strike down the Line Item Veto Act of 1996. It is said that politics makes for strange bedfellows, and this attempt to stifle congressional pork barrel tactics was an example of just that.
After Democrat Bill Clinton was elected President in 1992, the Republicans mounted a major surge in the mid-term elections of 1994 and achieved their dreamed of majority in congress. One promise these Republicans had made was to enact a line item veto law allowing the President to veto only a specific portion of a larger bill that was otherwise approved. President Reagan had been a vocal proponent of the line item veto, and now the Democrat Bill Clinton joined with Republicans in supporting it.
Meanwhile, many Democrats in congress opposed the bill for a variety of reasons, but the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 passed the Senate by a vote of 69-29, and the House approved by unanimous consent, with actual support by 232 members and opposition by 177 members. Prior to the passage of this law, the President could veto a bill in its entirety only, and Congress could override that veto with a 2/3 majority vote. Presidents had longed for the power to merely strike that part of a bill they did not support, but congress had been reluctant to cede that power until 1996.
Judge Thomas Hogan of the Federal Court had ruled against the President in favor of the City of New York (along with 2 hospital associations, a hospital union, and 2 health care unions) and a separate suit by Idaho potato growers that the judge had combined into a single case. Several Democratic senators had also opposed the President in this case. President Clinton appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court heard the case, ultimately ruling that the law was unconstitutional.
Of course, any Supreme Court decision opposed by 3 justices has its detractors, and dissenters of the majority decision are dubious of the claims of a violation of the Constitution. This case is one of those unusual cases where a President and the Opposing party joined forces against the President’s own party. Question for students (and subscribers): What other cases can you think of? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Scardino, Franco. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to U.S. Government and Politics. ALPHA, 2009.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton at the end of the first presidential debate of the 1996 election, held in Hartford, Connecticut, is in the public domain in the United States, because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
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