Friday, January 15, 2010

The Pocket Veto

When presented with a bill passed by Congress, the President of the U.S. may sign it into law, veto it, or send it back to Congress. As with any situation, the President may also take no action. Usually, if the President takes no action then the law becomes effective without his signature. However, if the Congress isn't in session when the President's time limit to return the bill to Congress expires -- the bill dies. This so-called "pocket veto" is specifically enumerated in Art. I, Sec. 7, Cl. 2 of the Constitution.

President Obama used the pocket veto last fall to kill (more accurately, "let die") an appropriations bill. However, "[f]or those unaware the president had even vetoed a bill emanating from the Democratic Congress, don’t worry. The measure was a stop-gap spending measure for the Pentagon that became unnecessary when the president instead signed the annual Pentagon money bill in time. He then vetoed the five-day, interim bill as unneeded legislation." (link to nytimes)

The New York times also reports that Congress voted last week on an effort to override that veto. The override attempt is a surprising move -- given the bill's substance was moot and any general procedural changes to the pocket veto would likely require changing the text of the constitution.

For a detailed look into the pocket veto (or any other provision of the Constitution, for that matter) check out "Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis & Interpretation." This meaty tome is an annotated version of the U.S. Constitution prepared by the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. As a government document it is available online through the government printing office (GPO). But to get a sense of the hefty consideration the Constitution has had over the years you can find it in the Reference area and the Reference Office.

-- Patrick Flanagan

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