Brief Fact Summary. Members of the 104th Congress voted “nay” when Congress passed the Line Item Veto Act (Act), which gave the President the authority to cancel certain spending and tax benefit measures after signing them into law. The day after the Act went into effect, the members filed suit against the Executive Branch officials, claiming the Act was unconstitutional.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. To meet the standing requirements of the U.S. Constitution under Article III (actual case or controversy), a plaintiff must allege personal injury that, “but for” the defendant’s actions, would not have occurred and that this injury is likely to be addressed by the relief requested from the Court.
On March 27, 1996, the Senate passed a bill entitled the Line Item Veto Act. The four Senators bringing this suit before the Court voted “nay”. The next day, the House of Representatives passed the bill as well. Two of the House members also voted “nay”. The Act went into effect on January 1, 1997. The next day, these members of Congress (members) filed suit against the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, alleging that the Act was unconstitutional. The Line Item Veto Act gives the President authority to cancel certain spending and tax benefit measures after he has signed them into law. Further, the Act provides that “any Member of Congress or any individual adversely affected by the Act may bring an action in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief on the ground that any provision of this part of the Act violates the Constitution.” These members claimed that the
Act injured them directly in their official capacities by 1) altering the legal effect of all votes they may cast on bills containing items that could be subsequently vetoed, 2) divesting the members of their constitutional role in the repeal of legislation, and 3) altering the constitutional balance of powers between the Legislative and Executive branches of government.
Issue. Do the members of Congress have standing to bring this case under Article III of the Constitution?
Held. Under Article III of the Constitution, the federal courts have jurisdiction over claims before them only if these claims constitute an “actual case or controversy.” This is a mandatory requirement to establish standing before the Court. The standing determination will be addressed before the Court addresses any other issues. First, members of Congress had not been singled out for unfavorable treatment, and their claim that the balance between the Legislative and Executive branches was in jeopardy applied to all members of Congress. Second, the members do not claim that they have been deprived of something to which they personally are entitled, such as their seats in Congress after being elected. Complaining of loss of political power, the Court argued, was not as concrete as loss of a private right. Third, the members did not allege that they voted for a specific bill that was affected by the Act, nor can they claim that the Act will nullify their votes in the future. The membe
rs could still vote on any bill, and could vote to exempt any bill from the Line Item Veto Act if they chose to do so. Thus, the members did not allege a personal violation because of the Act, nor could they show that the Act was the cause in fact or the “but for” cause of their injuries. Further, their injuries were not concrete or viable enough to be heard by the Court, and the Court could not redress their potential injuries.
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The Congressional members had standing to bring their claim before the Court. The members’ cause was sufficiently concrete because federal courts might have to adjudicate similar cases in other contexts. The personal harm suffered stems from the members’ inability to fulfill their Congressional power. If these issues are not addressed now, there will be a floodgate of litigation in the future when similar cases are brought to the federal courts.
Concurrence. The members had not alleged a personal violation of their rights, but rather a violation of their legislative power as a whole. However, the main reason the Court analyzed these facts as they did was to avoid intrusion on the Executive and Legislative branches of government, even though the majority never mentioned this point. Discussion.
The Court decided that the members lacked standing because they did not vote on a bill affected by the Act and their main argument focused on the impediments to Congressional power as a whole. It is important to note that Congress’ power was not limited by the bill because it could also choose to repeal it. Further, the members did not meet the Article III requirement of claiming an “actual case or controversy.”