Clinton v. City of New York,
524 U.S. 417 (1998)

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No. 97-1374. Argued April 27, 1998-Decided June 25,1998

Last Term, this Court determined on expedited review that Members of Congress did not have standing to maintain a constitutional challenge to the Line Item Veto Act (Act), 2 U. S. C. § 691 et seq., because they had not alleged a sufficiently concrete injury. Raines v. Byrd, 521 U. S. 811. Within two months, the President exercised his authority under the Act by canceling §4722(c) of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which waived the Federal Government's statutory right to recoupment of as much as $2.6 billion in taxes that the State of New York had levied against Medicaid providers, and § 968 of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, which permitted the owners of certain food refiners and processors to defer recognition of capital gains if they sold their stock to eligible farmers' cooperatives. Appellees, claiming they had been injured, filed separate actions against the President and other officials challenging the cancellations. The plaintiffs in the first case are the City of New York, two hospital associations, one hospital, and two unions representing health care employees. The plaintiffs in the second are the Snake River farmers' cooperative and one of its individual members. The District Court consolidated the cases, determined that at least one of the plaintiffs in each had standing under Article III, and ruled, inter alia, that the Act's cancellation procedures violate the Presentment Clause, Art. I, § 7, cl. 2. This Court again expedited its review.


1. The appellees have standing to challenge the Act's constitutionality. They invoked the District Court's jurisdiction under a section entitled "Expedited review," which, among other things, expressly authorizes "any individual adversely affected" to bring a constitutional challenge. § 692(a)(I). The Government's argument that none of them except the individual Snake River member is an "individual" within § 692(a)(I)'s meaning is rejected because, in the context of the entire section, it is clear that Congress meant that word to be construed broadly to include corporations and other entities. The Court is also unpersuaded by the Government's argument that appellees' challenge is nonjusticiable. These cases differ from Raines, not only because the President's exercise of his cancellation authority has removed any con-



cern about the dispute's ripeness, but more importantly because the parties have alleged a "personal stake" in having an actual injury redressed, rather than an "institutional injury" that is "abstract and widely dispersed." 521 U. S., at 829. There is no merit to the Government's contention that, in both cases, the appellees have not suffered actual injury because their claims are too speculative and, in any event, are advanced by the wrong parties. Because New York State now has a multibillion dollar contingent liability that had been eliminated by § 4722(c), the State, and the appellees, suffered an immediate, concrete injury the moment the President canceled the section and deprived them of its benefits. The argument that New York's claim belongs to the State, not appellees, fails in light of New York statutes demonstrating that both New York City and the appellee providers will be assessed for substantial portions of any recoupment payments the State has to make. Similarly, the President's cancellation of § 968 inflicted a sufficient likelihood of economic injury on the Snake River appellees to establish standing under this Court's precedents, cf. Bryant v. Yellen, 447 U. S. 352, 368. The assertion that, because processing facility sellers would have received the tax benefits, only they have standing to challenge the § 968 cancellation not only ignores the fact that the cooperatives were the intended beneficiaries of § 968, but also overlooks the fact that more than one party may be harmed by a defendant and therefore have standing. Pp. 428-436.

2. The Act's cancellation procedures violate the Presentment Clause. pp.436-449.

(a) The Act empowers the President to cancel an "item of new direct spending" such as § 4722(c) of the Balanced Budget Act and a "limited tax benefit" such as § 968 of the Taxpayer Relief Act, § 691(a), specifying that such cancellation prevents a provision "from having legal force or effect," §§ 691e(4)(B)-(C). Thus, in both legal and practical effect, the Presidential actions at issue have amended two Acts of Congress by repealing a portion of each. Statutory repeals must conform with Art. I, INS v. Chadha, 462 U. S. 919, 954, but there is no constitutional authorization for the President to amend or repeal. Under the Presentment Clause, after a bill has passed both Houses, but "before it become[s] a Law," it must be presented to the President, who "shall sign it" if he approves it, but "return it," i. e., "veto" it, if he does not. There are important differences between such a "return" and cancellation under the Act: The constitutional return is of the entire bill and takes place before it becomes law, whereas the statutory cancellation occurs after the bill becomes law and affects it only in part. There are powerful reasons for construing the constitutional silence on the profoundly important subject of Presidential repeals as equivalent to an express

Full Text of Opinion

Primary Holding

The Constitutional requirement of presentment prevents the president from changing or repealing laws or parts of laws without the prior consent of Congress.


In 1994, the Republican Party gained control of both Houses of Congress from the Democrats. Among their campaign promises was a Line Item Veto Act, which was intended to promote fiscal restraint. It permitted the President to cancel or void certain parts of laws on appropriations and prevented Congress from reallocating the funds designated for those provisions to other areas. This initiative had bipartisan support, since Democrat President Bill Clinton also supported it.

However, the Line Item Veto Act also faced bipartisan criticism. Six members of Congress, one of whom was Republican, challenged its constitutionality. They initially failed to show that they met the procedural standing requirements, since Clinton had not yet used the law. When he did start using it, another group of opponents brought a second lawsuit. They alleged a concrete injury that met the standing requirements based on the adverse effects of eliminating provisions in the Balanced Budget Act and the Taxpayer Relief Act. The Line Item Veto Act was struck down by the federal district court and then directly appealed to the Supreme Court, based on the distinctive appeals process set up within the Act to handle challenges to it.



  • John Paul Stevens (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • Anthony M. Kennedy
  • David H. Souter
  • Clarence Thomas
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The majority found that the Act was unconstitutional based on the Presentment Clause of the Constitution, which provides what Stevens argued was the only accepted way to promulgate a law. He felt that the Constitution implicitly disapproved of unilateral executive action in repealing parts of laws, although there was no textual evidence to support either side. After researching the historical background of the Presentment Clause and other constitutional provisions, Stevens held that a President must apply the veto power to an entire law rather than sections of it.


  • Anthony M. Kennedy (Author)

Echoing the logic of Stevens, Kennedy decided to write a specific rebuttal to the dissent's view that the Act implicated no separation of powers concerns. He appeared to argue that it was an improper delegation of legislative power to the executive branch, for it would allow the President to favor certain groups or regions over others at will.


  • Stephen G. Breyer (Author)

Interpreting silence in the Constitution in the opposite way from the majority, Breyer argued that the President could do whatever the text of the Constitution did not specifically forbid him to do. Moreover, he felt that the law did not violate the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, building an argument on the vast lineage of Supreme Court decisions that essentially eviscerated the non-delegation doctrine. In short, Breyer found that there was historical support for the President exercising this type of power, and that it was a logical means to achieving a legitimate end.

Concurrence/Dissent In Part

  • Antonin Scalia (Author)

Unlike the other Justices, Scalia would have dismissed the portion of the case based on the Taxpayer Relief Act. He argued that no party allegedly affected by it met the standing requirements. Meanwhile, Scalia felt that the use of the line item veto to amend the Balanced Budget Act was constitutional. He noted that Congress can choose whether or not to spend appropriated sums of money, and Scalia argued that the decision not to spend funds in implementing a provision amounted to a cancellation of it.

Case Commentary

Both the President and the Congress had accepted the Line Item Veto Act, and Congress did not object to its implementation. This decision thus shows how a court can strike down a law as unconstitutional even if the other two branches of government find it valid and useful.

The concept of a line item veto continues to attract sporadic support from various areas of the federal government. However, its advocates have not yet established a consensus strong enough to introduce an amended version of the law that the Court found to be unconstitutional. This may be partly because revising it to placate separation of powers concerns would undermine the efficiency that its proponents viewed as one of its main advantages.

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