Raines v. Byrd

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117 S.Ct. 2312 (1997), argued 27 May 1997, decided 25 June 1997 by vote of 7 to 2; Rehnquist for the Court, Souter concurring, in which Ginsburg joined, Stevens and Breyer in dissent. Congress in 1996 passed the Line-Item Veto Act, which authorized the president to cancel specific items in federal spending and tax bills within five days after signing the legislation. Historically, the president could only veto a measure in its entirety. Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat of West Virginia, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat of New York, joined with four other sitting or previous members of Congress to bring the suit.

The Supreme Court, however, rejected their case on the grounds that none of them had standing to sue since they had not suffered a personal injury. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist held that under Article III of the Constitution a federal court can only decide cases where the plaintiffs have a concrete injury and a personal stake in the dispute. In this instance, as members of Congress, they had an institutional interest in the matter of the line-item veto, but the cases and controversies requirement of the Constitution meant that they also had to show personal injury. Even though the Line-Item Veto Act had provided that members of Congress could bring suit to challenge its constitutionality, the chief justice said that Congress could not supersede the Constitution's requirement for an actual case and controversy.

As a result, the Court cleared the way for President Bill Clinton to kill individual spending items, although the justices did not indicate whether the line-item veto would be upheld if a plaintiff with standing brought a case. Justice David Souter made clear in his dissent that he thought the act was unconstitutional, although Justice Stephen Breyer, the other dissenter, offered no such opinion. He did insist that the plaintiffs had a right to sue.

Critics believed that once an appropriate plaintiff could be found, the Court would hold the law unconstitutional as a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers.

Kermit L. Hall

Subjects: Law.

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