Raines v. Byrd

521 U.S. 811

Case Year: 1997

Case Ruling: 7-2, Vacated and Remanded with Instructions to Dismiss

Opinion Justice: Rehnquist

More Information

Concurring Opinions

Dissenting Opinions

Court Opinion Joiner(s):

Ginsburg, Kennedy, O'Connor, Scalia, Souter, Thomas


1st Concurring Opinion

Author: Souter


1st Dissenting Opinion

Author: Breyer

Joiner(s): Stevens

2nd Concurring Opinion



2nd Dissenting Opinion



3rd Concurring Opinion



3rd Dissenting Opinion



Other Concurring Opinions:


A fundamental feature of our system of government is the manner by which bills become laws: Since the days of George Washington, Congress has passed laws and presidents have been forced to decide whether to accept them or reject them. Presidents, however, have not always been wholly satisfied with this arrangement. Beginning with Ulysses S. Grant, virtually all have sought to exercise the "line item veto"--a mechanism that allows presidents to cancel certain tax and spending benefits after they have signed these benefits into law.

Various rationales have been offered for the line item veto. A common one is: Since members of Congress face periodic reelection checks, they often include certain "pork barrel" projects in the federal budget. These projects are designed to appease constituents but, ultimately, waste federal tax dollars. Examples of such unnecessary expenditures in the 1995 budget, according to the Clinton administration, included $70 million for a Pentagon housing facility, $58 million for university research facilities, and $1 billion for water resources. As Congress appears unable to take fiscal responsibility and omit such items from the budget, the president should take on this responsibility by being able to veto or "cancel" particular expenditures--or so the argument often goes.

In 1996 Congress finally agreed, enacting the Line Item Veto Act, which stated in part:

... [T]he President may, with respect to any bill or joint resolution that has been signed into law pursuant to Article I, section 7, of the Constitution of the United States, cancel in whole--(1) any dollar amount of discretionary budget authority; (2) any item of new direct spending; or (3) any limited tax benefit; if the President--

(A) determines that such cancellation will--(i) reduce the Federal budget deficit; (ii) not impair any essential Government functions; and (iii) not harm the national interest; and

(B) notifies the Congress of such cancellation by transmitting a special message ... within five calendar days (excluding Sundays) after the enactment of the law [to which the cancellation applies].

The act contains two other important provisions. First, while it gives the president the power to rescind various expenditures, it also establishes a check on his ability to do so. Congress may consider "disapproval bills"--those that would render the president's cancellation "null and void." In other words, Congress may restore presidential cuts but, it is worth noting, new congressional legislation is subject to a presidential veto. Second, the act provides that "[a]ny Member of Congress or any individual adversely affected by [this 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 violates the Constitution."

On January 2, 1997, one day after the act went into effect, six members of Congress--three serving senators, Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y.; a retired senator, Mark Hatfield, R-Ore.; and two representatives, David Skaggs, D-Colo. and Henry Waxman, D-Calif.--who had voted against the law, took advantage of this provision and brought suit in federal court against Secretary of the Treasury Robert E. Rubin and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Franklin D. Raines. These legislators argued that the law violates Article I of the Constitution, especially, Article I, §7. In their view, it "unconstitutionally expands the President's power," and "violates the requirements of bicameral passage and presentment by granting to the President, acting alone, the authority to 'cancel' and thus repeal provisions of federal law." They further asserted that the act injured them "directly and concretely ... in their official capacities" in three ways:

The Act ... (a) alter[s] the legal and practical effect of all votes they may cast on bills containing such separately vetoable items, (b) divest[s] the [appellees] of their constitutional role in the repeal of legislation, and (c) alter[s] the constitutional balance of powers between the Legislative and Executive Branches, both with respect to measures containing separately vetoable items and with respect to other matters coming before Congress.

Attorneys for the executive branch disagreed. They argued that the legislators lacked standing to sue and that their claim was not ripe. For example, the president had not yet invoked the veto authority granted him under the act.

After the lower court held that the members of Congress had standing to bring this suit, that their claim was ripe, and that the Act was unconstitutional, executive branch officials appealed to the Supreme Court. The act directed the Court to hear as soon as possible any suit challenging its constitutionality, so the justices established an expedited briefing schedule. They heard oral arguments on May 27, 1997--only a little more than a month after the lower court had rendered its decision.



... Under Article III, §2 of the Constitution, the federal courts have jurisdiction over this dispute between appellants and appellees only if it is a "case" or "controversy." This is a "bedrock requirement."...

One element of the case-or-controversy requirement is that appellees, based on their complaint, must establish that they have standing to sue. Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife (1992) (plaintiff bears burden of establishing standing). The standing inquiry focuses on whether the plaintiff is the proper party to bring this suit, ... although that inquiry "often turns on the nature and source of the claim asserted.... To meet the standing requirements of Article III, "[a] plaintiff must allegepersonal injury fairly traceable to the defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief." Allen v. Wright (1984) (emphasis added). For our purposes, the italicized words in this quotation from Allen are the key ones. We have consistently stressed that a plaintiff's complaint must establish that he has a "personal stake" in the alleged dispute, and that the alleged injury suffered is particularized as to him....

We have also stressed that the alleged injury must be legally and judicially cognizable. This requires, among other things, that the plaintiff have suffered "an invasion of a legally protected interest which is ... concrete and particularized," ... and that the dispute is "traditionally thought to be capable of resolution through the judicial process," Flast v. Cohen, (1968)....

We have always insisted on strict compliance with this jurisdictional standing requirement.... And our standing inquiry has been especially rigorous when reaching the merits of the dispute would force us to decide whether an action taken by one of the other two branches of the Federal Government was unconstitutional.... As we said in Allen, "the law of Art. III standing is built on a single basic idea--the idea of separation of powers." In the light of this overriding and time-honored concern about keeping the Judiciary's power within its proper constitutional sphere, we must put aside the natural urge to proceed directly to the merits of this important dispute and to "settle" it for the sake of convenience and efficiency. Instead, we must carefully inquire as to whether appellees have met their burden of establishing that their claimed injury is personal, particularized, concrete, and otherwise judicially cognizable.

We have never had occasion to rule on the question of legislative standing presented here.... In Powell v. McCormack(1969), we held that a Member of Congress' constitutional challenge to his exclusion from the House of Representatives (and his consequent loss of salary) presented an Article III case or controversy. But Powell does not help appellees. First, appellees have not been singled out for specially unfavorable treatment as opposed to other Members of their respective bodies. Their claim is that the Act causes a type of institutional injury (the diminution of legislative power), which necessarily damages all Members of Congress and both Houses of Congress equally.... Second, appellees do not claim that they have been deprived of something to which they personally are entitled--such as their seats as Members of Congress after their constituents had elected them. Rather, appellees' claim of standing is based on a loss of political power, not loss of any private right, which would make the injury more concrete. Unlike the injury claimed by Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, the injury claimed by the Members of Congress here is not claimed in any private capacity but solely because they are Members of Congress.... If one of the Members were to retire tomorrow, he would no longer have a claim; the claim would be possessed by his successor instead. The claimed injury thus runs (in a sense) with the Member's seat, a seat which the Member holds (it may quite arguably be said) as trustee for his constituents, not as a prerogative of personal power....

The one case in which we have upheld standing for legislators (albeit state legislators) claiming an institutional injury isColeman v. Miller (1939). Appellees, relying heavily on this case, claim that they, like the state legislators in Coleman, >"have a plain, direct and adequate interest in maintaining the effectiveness of their votes," ... sufficient to establish standing. In Coleman, 20 of Kansas' 40 State Senators voted not to ratify the proposed "Child Labor Amendment" to the Federal Constitution. With the vote deadlocked 20-20, the amendment ordinarily would not have been ratified. However, the State's Lieutenant Governor, the presiding officer of the State Senate, cast a deciding vote in favor of the amendment, and it was deemed ratified (after the State House of Representatives voted to ratify it). The 20 State Senators who had voted against the amendment, joined by a 21st State Senator and three State House Members, filed an action in the Kansas Supreme Court seeking a writ of mandamus that would compel the appropriate state officials to recognize that the legislature had not in fact ratified the amendment. That court held that the members of the legislature had standing to bring their mandamus action, but ruled against them on the merits....

This Court affirmed. By a vote of 5-4, we held that the members of the legislature had standing. In explaining our holding, we repeatedly emphasized that if these legislators (who were suing as a bloc) were correct on the merits, then their votes not to ratify the amendment were deprived of all validity:

"Here, the plaintiffs include twenty senators, whose votes against ratification have beenoverridden and virtually held for naught although if they are right in their contentionstheir votes would have been sufficient to defeat ratification. We think that these senators have a plain, direct, and adequate interest in maintaining the effectiveness of their votes."... (Emphasis added.)

"[T]he twenty senators were not only qualified to vote on the question of ratification buttheir votes, if the Lieutenant governor were excluded as not being a part of the legislature for that purpose, would have been decisive in defeating the ratifying resolution."... (Emphasis added.)

"[W]e find no departure from principle in recognizing in the instant case that at least the twenty senators whose votes, if their contention were sustained, would have been sufficient to defeat the resolution ratifying the proposed constitutional amendment, have an interest in the controversy which, treated by the state court as a basis for entertaining and deciding the federal questions, is sufficient to give the Court jurisdiction to review that decision."... (Emphasis added.)

It is obvious, then, that our holding in Colemanstands for the proposition that legislators whose votes would have been sufficient to defeat (or enact) a specific legislative act have standing to sue if that legislative action goes into effect (or does not go into effect), on the ground that their votes have been completely nullified.

It should be equally obvious that appellees' claim does not fall within our holding in Coleman, as thus understood. They have not alleged that they voted for a specific bill, that there were sufficient votes to pass the bill, and that the bill was nonetheless deemed defeated. In the vote on the Line Item Veto Act, their votes were given full effect. They simply lost that vote. Nor can they allege that the Act will nullify their votes in the future in the same way that the votes of theColeman legislators had been nullified. In the future, a majority of Senators and Congressman can pass or reject appropriations bills; the Act has no effect on this process. In addition, a majority of Senators and Congressmen can vote to repeal the Act, or to exempt a given appropriations bill (or a given provision in an appropriations bill) from the Act; again, the Act has no effect on this process. Coleman thus provides little meaningful precedent for appellees' argument.

Nevertheless, appellees rely heavily on our statement in Coleman that the Kansas senators had "a plain, direct, and adequate interest in maintaining the effectiveness of their votes." Appellees claim that this statement applies to them because their votes on future appropriations bills (assuming a majority of Congress does not decide to exempt those bills from the Act) will be less "effective" than before, and that the "meaning" and "integrity" of their vote has changed.... The argument goes as follows. Before the Act, Members of Congress could be sure that when they voted for, and Congress passed, an appropriations bill that included funds for Project X, one of two things would happen: (i) the bill would become law and all of the projects listed in the bill would go into effect, or (ii) the bill would not become law and none of the projects listed in the bill would go into effect. Either way, a vote for the appropriations bill meant a vote for a package of projects that were inextricably linked. After the Act, however, a vote for an appropriations bill that includes Project X means something different. Now, in addition to the two possibilities listed above, there is a third option: the bill will become law and then the President will "cancel" Project X.

Even taking appellees at their word about the change in the "meaning" and "effectiveness" of their vote for appropriations bills which are subject to the Act, we think their argument pulls Coleman too far from its moorings. Appellees' use of the word "effectiveness" to link their argument to Coleman stretches the word far beyond the sense in which theColemanopinion used it. There is a vast difference between the level of vote nullification at issue in Coleman and the abstract dilution of institutional legislative power that is alleged here. To uphold standing here would require a drastic extension of Coleman. We are unwilling to take that step.

Not only do appellees lack support from precedent, but historical practice appears to cut against them as well. It is evident from several episodes in our history that in analogous confrontations between one or both Houses of Congress and the Executive Branch, no suit was brought on the basis of claimed injury to official authority or power....

If the appellees in the present case have standing, ... in INS v. Chadha (1983), the Attorney General would have had standing to challenge the one-House veto provision because it rendered his authority provisional rather than final. By parity of reasoning, President Gerald Ford could have sued to challenge the appointment provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act which were struck down in Buckley v. Valeo, and a Member of Congress could have challenged the validity of President Coolidge's pocket veto that was sustained in The Pocket Veto Case (1929)....

In sum, appellees have alleged no injury to themselves as individuals (contra Powell), the institutional injury they allege is wholly abstract and widely dispersed (contra Coleman), and their attempt to litigate this dispute at this time and in this form is contrary to historical experience. We attach some importance to the fact that appellees have not been authorized to represent their respective Houses of Congress in this action, and indeed both Houses actively oppose their suit.... We also note that our conclusion neither deprives Members of Congress of an adequate remedy (since they may repeal the Act or exempt appropriations bills from its reach), nor forecloses the Act from constitutional challenge (by someone who suffers judicially cognizable injury as a result of the Act). Whether the case would be different if any of these circumstances were different we need not now decide.

We therefore hold that these individual members of Congress do not have a sufficient "personal stake" in this dispute and have not alleged a sufficiently concrete injury to have established Article III standing. The judgment of the District Court is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction.

Vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss.


... Because it is fairly debatable whether appellees' injury is sufficiently personal and concrete to give them standing, it behooves us to resolve the question under more general separation-of-powers principles underlying our standing requirements.... While "our constitutional structure [does not] require ... that the Judicial Branch shrink from a confrontation with the other two coequal branches," ... we have cautioned that respect for the separation of powers requires the Judicial Branch to exercise restraint in deciding constitutional issues by resolving those implicating the powers of the three branches of Government as a "last resort." The counsel of restraint in this case begins with the fact that a dispute involving only officials, and the official interests of those, who serve in the branches of the National Government lies far from the model of the traditional common-law cause of action at the conceptual core of the case-or-controversy requirement.... Although the contest here is not formally between the political branches (since Congress passed the bill augmenting Presidential power and the President signed it), it is in substance an interbranch controversy about calibrating the legislative and executive powers, as well as an intrabranch dispute between segments of Congress itself. Intervention in such a controversy would risk damaging the public confidence that is vital to the functioning of the Judicial Branch, ... by embroiling the federal courts in a power contest nearly at the height of its political tension.

While it is true that a suit challenging the constitutionality of this Act brought by a party from outside the Federal Government would also involve the Court in resolving the dispute over the allocation of power between the political branches, it would expose the Judicial Branch to a lesser risk. Deciding a suit to vindicate an interest outside the Government raises no specter of judicial readiness to enlist on one side of a political tug-of-war, since "the propriety of such action by a federal court has been recognized since Marbury v. Madison (1803)."... And just as the presence of a party beyond the Government places the Judiciary at some remove from the political forces, the need to await injury to such a plaintiff allows the courts some greater separation in the time between the political resolution and the judicial review....

The virtue of waiting for a private suit is only confirmed by the certainty that another suit can come to us. The parties agree, and I see no reason to question, that if the President "cancels" a conventional spending or tax provision pursuant to the Act, the putative beneficiaries of that provision will likely suffer a cognizable injury and thereby have standing under Article III....


The Line Item Veto Act purports to establish a procedure for the creation of laws that are truncated versions of bills that have been passed by the Congress and presented to the President for signature. If the procedure were valid, it would deny every Senator and every Representative any opportunity to vote for or against the truncated measure that survives the exercise of the President's cancellation authority. Because the opportunity to cast such votes is a right guaranteed by the text of the Constitution, I think it clear that the persons who are deprived of that right by the Act have standing to challenge its constitutionality. Moreover, because the impairment of that constitutional right has an immediate impact on their official powers, in my judgment they need not wait until after the President has exercised his cancellation authority to bring suit. Finally, the same reason that the respondents have standing provides a sufficient basis for concluding that the statute is unconstitutional....

... The appellees ... articulated their claim as a combination of the diminished effect of their initial vote and the circumvention of their right to participate in the subsequent repeal. Whether one looks at the claim from this perspective, or as a simple denial of their right to vote on the precise text that will ultimately become law, the basic nature of the injury caused by the Act is the same.

In my judgment, the deprivation of this right--essential to the legislator's office--constitutes a sufficient injury to provide every Member of Congress with standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statute. If the dilution of an individual voter's power to elect representatives provides that voter with standing--as it surely does--the deprivation of the right possessed by each Senator and Representative to vote for or against the precise text of any bill before it becomes law must also be a sufficient injury to create Article III standing for them....

Moreover, the appellees convincingly explain how the immediate, constant threat of the partial veto power has a palpable effect on their current legislative choices.... Because the Act has this immediate and important impact on the powers of Members of Congress, and on the manner in which they undertake their legislative responsibilities, they need not await an exercise of the President's cancellation authority to institute the litigation that the statute itself authorizes....

Given the fact that the authority at stake is granted by the plain and unambiguous text of Article I, it is equally clear to me that the statutory attempt to eliminate it is invalid.

Accordingly, I would affirm the judgment of the District Court.


... I concede that there would be no case or controversy here were the dispute before us not truly adversary, or were it not concrete and focused. But the interests that the parties assert are genuine and opposing, and the parties are therefore truly adverse....

Nonetheless, there remains a serious constitutional difficulty due to the fact that this dispute about lawmaking procedures arises between government officials and is brought by legislators. The critical question is whether or not this dispute, for that reason, is so different in form from those "matters that were the traditional concern of the courts at Westminster" that it falls outside the scope of Article III's judicial power. Justice Frankfurter explained this argument in his dissent inColeman, saying that courts traditionally

"leave intra-parliamentary controversies to parliaments and outside the scrutiny of law courts. The procedures for voting in legislative assemblies--who are members, how and when they should vote, what is the requisite number of votes for different phases of legislative activity, what votes were cast and how they were counted--surely are matters that not merely concern political action, but are of the very essence of political action, if 'political' has any connotation at all.... In no sense are they matters of 'private damage.' They pertain to legislators not as individuals but as political representatives executing the legislative process. To open the law courts to such controversies is to have courts sit in judgment on the manifold disputes engendered by procedures for voting in legislative assemblies."...

Justice Frankfurter dissented because, in his view, the "political" nature of the case, which involved legislators, placed the dispute outside the scope of Article III's "case" or "controversy" requirement. Nonetheless, the Colemancourt rejected his argument.

Although the majority today attempts to distinguish Coleman, I do not believe that Justice Frankfurter's argument or variations on its theme can carry the day here. First ... the jurisdictional statute before us eliminates all but constitutional considerations, and the circumstances mentioned above remove all but the "political" or "intragovernmental" aspect of the constitutional issue....

Second, the Constitution does not draw an absolute line between disputes involving a "personal" harm and those involving an "official" harm."... Coleman itself involved injuries in the plaintiff legislators' official capacity. And the majority in this case, suggesting that legislators might have standing to complain of rules that "denied" them "their vote ... in a discriminatory manner," concedes at least the possibility that any constitutional rule distinguishing "official" from "personal" injury is not absolute....

Third, Justice Frankfurter's views were dissenting views, and the dispute before us, when compared to Coleman, presents a much stronger claim, not a weaker claim, for constitutional justiciability. The lawmakers in Coleman complained of a lawmaking procedure that, at worst, improperly counted Kansas as having ratified one proposed constitutional amendment, which had been ratified by only 5 other States, and rejected by 26, making it unlikely that it would ever become law....Colemansupra, at 436. The lawmakers in this case complain of a lawmaking procedure that threatens the validity of many laws (for example, all appropriations laws) that Congress regularly and frequently enacts. The systematic nature of the harm immediately affects the legislators' ability to do their jobs. The harms here are more serious, more pervasive, and more immediate than the harm at issue in Coleman...

In sum, I do not believe that the Court can find this case nonjusticiable without overruling Coleman. Since it does not do so, I need not decide whether the systematic nature, seriousness, and immediacy of the harm would make this dispute constitutionally justiciable even in Coleman's absence. Rather, I can and would find this case justiciable on Coleman's authority. I add that because the majority has decided that this dispute is not now justiciable and has expressed no view on the merits of the appeal, I shall not discuss the merits either, but reserve them for future argument.

Editor's Note: Although JUSTICE STEVENS's dissenting opinion offers an opinion on the merits of the case--that the Line Item Veto Act is unconstitutional--the majority refused to rule on the law's validity. Rather, it held that the suit was not a real case or controversy because the members of Congress were "not the right" litigants. Surely, the day will come, as JUSTICE SOUTER points out in his concurring opinion, when a party will have suffered a sufficient loss of federal funds to maintain a suit.