The Line Item Veto Act Definition

Clinton vs. City of New York was a Supreme Court case that was decided in the year 1998 by a bench of 9. The ruling was delivered by Justice John Paul Stevens. This case involved the President’s ability to carry a line-item veto on statutes that had been previously passed as law by the United States Congress. This basically meant that the President had the powers under the line-item veto Act to strike out in part or whole statutes passed by Congress. The then-president who was taken to court was President Bill Clinton. The President under the Act also had powers to make changes or repeal in part or whole the statutes passed by Congress.


In 1996, an Act was enacted which gave the President Powers to make legal amendments to bills previously passed by parliament. This Act came to be known as The Line Item Veto Act. The provisions of this Act were especially to appropriation bills. The Act further provided that it was illegal to use funds from canceled statutes. It was for this reason that the city of New York together with other health care-related organizations sued President Clinton for having struck out certain provisions of the 1997 Tax Payer Relief Act. The purpose of this Act was to give tax assistance to potato farmers to enable them to afford facilities for processing the potatoes. (Roy, 1999)

The issue before the Supreme Court which was due for determination was the constitutionality of the 1996 Line Item Veto Act. The question before the court, therefore was whether this Act was in any way unconstitutional. The plaintiffs in this case who were the city of New York together with other health institutions wanted the court to also determine the constitutionality of the cancellations made by President Clinton on the Tax Payer Relief Act. (Corvey, 2000)

Courts Ruling

It was established that the Act gave the president excessive powers to unilaterally amend and/or repeal sections of enacted statutes by using line-item cancellation which was contrary to the constitutionality procedure established under the presentment clause. The court established that though such powers were not expressly provided for in the constitution it was implied within the Presentment Clause that statues may only be enacted and executed in accordance to finely wrought and exhaustive procedural consideration before approval or rejection by the president.

However various opinions emerged as a result of the foregoing ruling. While Justice Stephen Breyer contended that the Line Item Veto Act was consistent with the Presentment Clause as it did not in any way violate any specific textual constitutional provision nor did it violate any implicit trias political principle. Further, he argued that the Act acted as a means of delegating powers by the Congress to the executive. (Henry, 1992)

Justice Antony Kennedy on the other hand established a contrary view stating that such an act by the President violated the trias politica principle and as such individual liberty as in fact the Act enhanced “the president’s powers to reward one group and punish the other, to help one set of taxpayers and hurt the other, to favor one state and ignore the another” (Armstrong, 1987) Kennedy’s rule in conclusion established that the statute violated the doctrine of non-delegation.


While it seems like the proposed Act would give the President the ability to establish wasteful spending and stop, it is however not clear as to whether the approval of the congress is mandatory. It can thus be conclusively stated that the Act seems to grant excessive unilateral authority to the Executive which is subject to abuse as it is not checked by congress. It would thus be efficient that the President to successfully rescind previously enacted spending, a simple majority of Congress be conducted to agree to specific legislation that ought to be an effect.

The Supreme Court is the highest courting the land. This, therefore means that the decision made by a judge in the Supreme Court is final and binding to the lower courts. As a Supreme Court judge, I concur with Justice John Paul Stevens in this particular case. This is because looking at the facts of the case it is clear that the Act in question gave the President excessive powers which were likely to be subject to abuse by the president. I therefore from a legal point believe that Justice Stevens gave a correct ruling in this matter.

Works Cited

Butler Henry. The Treaty Making Power of the United States. London. Banks Law Pub, 1992.

Armstrong J. Principles of Constitutional Law. London, Oxford University Press, 1987.

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

Corvey A. Constitutional Law Defined. London Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Moore Roy. Mass communication Law and Ethics. New York, Routledge, 1999.

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