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Federal Court Judge Determines Line-Item Veto Unconstitutional

By Toni Locy
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

A federal judge Thursday declared the presidential line-item veto unconstitutional, calling Congress' ceding of such powers to the president "revolutionary" and warning that it turned the division of legislative and executive branch responsibilities "on its head."

Because the line-item veto effectively gives the president the power to repeal laws or portions of laws he does not like, it violates the "careful design" of the Constitution by the founding fathers, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled.

"Never before has Congress attempted to give away the power to shape the content of a statute of the United States, as the act purports to do," Jackson wrote in a 37-page opinion. "As expansive as its delegations of power may have been in the past, none has gone so far as to transfer the function of repealing a provision of statutory law.

"The power to make' the laws of the nation is the exclusive, non-delegable power of Congress," Jackson ruled. " That it can be recaptured if Congress repeals the (line-item veto) act, or suspends it does not alter the fact that until Congress does so the president has become a co-maker of the nation's laws."

And that is not allowed under the Constitution, the judge said.

Jackson's ruling came in a lawsuit filed by six lawmakers, led by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who argued that the line-item veto, a marquee item in the House Republicans' "Contract With America" in the last Congress, illegally circumvents the Constitution's requirement that the president veto whole bills, not pieces.

Byrd Thursday night called the decision "a great victory for the American people, the Constitution and our constitutional system of checks and balances and separation of powers."

Rep. David E. Skaggs, D-Colo., another plaintiff, said he felt vindicated by the ruling.