The respondent challenged a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, authorizing one House of Congress to invalidate the decision of the Executive Branch, pursuant to authority delegated by Congress to the Attorney General of the United States, to allow a particular deportable alien to remain in the United States.
Whether actions taken by either House are an exercise of legislative power depends not on their form but upon “whether they contain matter which is properly to be regarded as legislative in its character and effect.”
Respondent, Chadha, is an East Indian born, who was born in Kenya and holds a British passport. He was lawfully admitted to the United States on a nonimmigrant student visa. His visa expired in 1972. In 1974, he admitted that he was deportable for overstaying his visa and he was allowed to file an application for suspension of deportation. In 1975, the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and International Law introduced a resolution opposing the grant of permanent residence in the United States to six aliens including Chadha. The resolution had not been made available to other members of the House. Chadha appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals.
Did the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allowed a one-House veto of executive actions, violate the Constitution?
No, the congressional veto provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act is unconstitutional. Congress may only act or pass acts in their legislative boundary. Here, the power to make a decision whether to deport Chadha or not belongs the Executive. However, the actions done by Congressional members reveal that it was essentially legislative in purpose and effect. In purporting to exercise power to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, the House took action that had the purpose and effect of altering the legal rights, duties and relations of persons including the attorney general, Executive Branch officials, and Chadha. Because Congress encroached the boundary of another branch, the congressional veto provision is invalid.
If Congress may delegate lawmaking power to independent and executive agencies, it is difficult to understand the Constitution as forbidding Congress from also reserving a check on legislative power for itself. Absent the veto, the agencies receiving delegations of legislative power may issue regulations having the force of law without congressional approval and without the President’s signature. While not all legislative vetoes are necessarily consistent with separation of powers principle, the legislative veto here is far from an instance of legislative tyranny over the Executive, but a necessary check.
The nature of the decision implemented by the one-House veto manifests its legislative character. After long experience with time consuming private bill procedure, Congress made a deliberate choice to delegate to the Executive Branch, and specifically to the Attorney General, the authority to allow deportable aliens to remain in this country in certain specified circumstances. Disagreement with the Attorney General’s decision on Chadha’s deportation no less than Congress’ original choice to delegate to the Attorney General the authority to make that decision, involves determinations of policy that Congress an implement in only one way: review by both Houses followed by presentment to the President. Congress must abide by its delegation of authority until that delegation is legislatively altered or revoked. That has not happened.