Raines v. Byrd

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 1997

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Souter, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Ginsburg, J., joined. Stevens, J., and Breyer, J., filed dissenting opinions.


Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

The District Court for the District of Columbia declared the Line Item Veto Act unconstitutional. On this direct appeal, we hold that appellees lack standing to bring this suit, and therefore direct that the judgment of the District Court be vacated and the complaint dismissed.

The appellees are six Members of Congress, four of whom served as Senators and two of whom served as Congressmen in the 104th Congress (1995-1996). On March 27, 1996, the Senate passed a bill entitled the Line Item Veto Act by a vote of 69-31. All four appellee Senators voted "nay." 142 Cong. Rec. S2995. The next day, the House of Representatives passed the identical bill by a vote of 232-177. Both appellee Congressmen voted "nay." Id., at H2986. On April 4, 1996, the President signed the Line Item Veto Act (Act) into law. Pub. L. 104-130, 110 Stat. 1200, codified at 2 U. S. C. A. §691 et seq. (Supp. 1997). The Act went into effect on January 1, 1997. See Pub. L. 104-130, §5. The next day, appellees filed a complaint in the District Court for the District of Columbia against the two appellants, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, alleging that the Act was unconstitutional.

The provisions of the Line Item Veto Act do not use the term "veto." Instead, the President is given the authority to "cancel" certain spending and tax benefit measures after he has signed them into law. Specifically, the Act provides:

"[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]." §691(a) (some indentations omitted).

The President’s "cancellation" under the Act takes effect when the "special message" notifying Congress of the cancellation is received in the House and Senate. With respect to dollar amounts of "discretionary budget authority," a cancellation means "to rescind." §691e(4)(A). With respect to "new direct spending" items or "limited tax benefit[s]," a cancellation means that the relevant legal provision, legal obligation, or budget authority is "prevent[ed] ... from having legal force or effect." §§691e(4)(B), (C).

The Act establishes expedited procedures in both Houses for the consideration of "disapproval bills," §691d, bills or joint resolutions which, if enacted into law by the familiar procedures set out in Article I, §7 of the Constitution, would render the President’s cancellation "null and void," §691b(a). "Disapproval bills" may only be one sentence long and must read as follows after the enacting clause: "That Congress disapproves of cancellations _______ as transmitted by the President in a special message on ______ regarding ________." §691e(6)(C). (The blank spaces correspond to the cancellation reference numbers as set out in the special message, the date of the President’s special message, and the public law number to which the special message relates, respectively. Ibid.)

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." §692(a)(1). Appellees brought suit under this provision, claiming that "[t]he Act violates Article I" of the Constitution. Complaint ¶17. Specifically, they alleged that the Act "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." Ibid. They alleged 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." Id., ¶14.

Appellants moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, claiming (among other things) that appellees lacked standing to sue and that their claim was not ripe. Both sides also filed motions for summary judgment on the merits. On April 10, 1997, the District Court (i) denied appellants’ motion to dismiss, holding that appellees had standing to bring this suit and that their claim was ripe, and (ii) granted appellees’ summary judgment motion, holding that the Act is unconstitutional.…

The Act provides for a direct, expedited appeal to this Court. §692(b) (direct appeal to Supreme Court); §692(c) ("It shall be the duty of ... the Supreme Court of the United States to advance on the docket and to expedite to the greatest possible extent the disposition of any [suit challenging the Act’s constitutionality] brought under [§3(a) of the Act]"). On April 18, eight days after the District Court issued its order, appellants filed a jurisdictional statement asking us to note probable jurisdiction, and on April 21, appellees filed a memorandum in response agreeing that we should note probable jurisdiction. On April 23, we did so. 520 U. S. ___ (1997). We established an expedited briefing schedule and heard oral argument on May 27. We now holdthat appellees have no standing to bring this suit, and therefore direct that the judgment of the District Court be vacated and the complaint dismissed.

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." Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 471 (1982)….

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, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992) (plaintiff bears burden of establishing standing). The standing inquiry focuses on whether the plaintiff is the proper party to bring this suit, Simon, supra, at 38, although that inquiry "often turns on the nature and source of the claim asserted," Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 500 (1975). To meet the standing requirements of Article III, "[a] plaintiff must allege personal injury fairly traceable to the defendant’s allegedly unlawful conduct and likely to be redressed by the requested relief." Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751 (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," Lujan, 504 U. S., at 560, and that the dispute is "traditionally thought to be capable of resolution through the judicial process," Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 97 (1968). See also Allen, 468 U. S., at 752 ("Is the injury too abstract, or otherwise not appropriate, to be considered judicially cognizable?").

We have always insisted on strict compliance with this jurisdictional standing requirement. See, e.g, ibid. (under Article III, "federal courts may exercise power only ‘in the last resort, and as a necessity’ ") (quoting Chicago & Grand Trunk R. Co. v. Wellman, 143 U.S. 339, 345 (1892)); Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346, 356 (1911) ("[F]rom its earliest history this [C]ourt has consistently declined to exercise any powers other than those which are strictly judicial in their nature"). 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. See, e.g., Bender, supra, at 542; Valley Forge, supra, at 473-474 . As we said in Allen, supra, at 752, "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, 395 U.S. 486, 496, 512-514 (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. See n. 7, infra. 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. See Complaint ¶14 (purporting to sue "in their official capacities"). 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 is Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433 (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," id., at 438, 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. See id., at 436-437.

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…

It is obvious, then, that our holding in Coleman stands (at most, see n. 8, infra) 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 the Coleman 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 Congressman 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….

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. The Tenure of Office Act, passed by Congress over the veto of President Andrew Johnson in 1867, was a thorn in the side of succeeding Presidents until it was finally repealed at the behest of President Grover Cleveland in 1887. See generally W. Rehnquist, Grand Inquests: The Historic Impeachments of Justice Samuel Chase and President Andrew Johnson 210-235, 260-268 (1992). It provided that an official whose appointment to an Executive Branch office required confirmation by the Senate could not be removed without the consent of the Senate. 14 Stat. 430, ch. 154. In 1868, Johnson removed his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. Within a week, the House of Representatives impeached Johnson. 1 Trial of Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, Before the Senate of the United States on Impeachment by the House of Representatives for High Crimes and Misdemeanors 4 (1868). One of the principal charges against him was that his removal of Stanton violated the Tenure of Office Act. Id., at 6-8. At the conclusion of his trial before the Senate, Johnson was acquitted by one vote. 2 id., at 487, 496-498. Surely Johnson had a stronger claim of diminution of his official power as a result of the Tenure of Office Act than do the appellees in the present case. Indeed, if their claim were sustained, it would appear that President Johnson would have had standing to challenge the Tenure of Office Act before he ever thought about firing a cabinet member, simply on the grounds that it altered the calculus by which he would nominate someone to his cabinet. Yet if the federal courts had entertained an action to adjudicate the constitutionality of the Tenure of Office Act immediately after its passage in 1867, they would have been improperly and unnecessarily plunged into the bitter political battle being waged between the President and Congress….

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. See n. 2, supra. 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.


Justice Souter, concurring in the judgment, with whom Justice Ginsburg joins, concurring.

… 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. See Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 752 (1984); United States v. Richardson, 418 U.S. 166, 188-197 (1974) (Powell, J., concurring). While "our constitutional structure [does not] require . . . that the Judicial Branch shrink from a confrontation with the other two coequal branches," Valley Forge Christian College, supra, at 474, 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," see ibid. 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, see Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Comm., supra, at 150, 152 (Frankfurter, J., concurring). 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, cf. Valley Forge Christian College, supra, at 474 (quoting Richardson, supra, at 188 (Powell, J., concurring)), 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, 1 Cranch 137 (1803)." Valley Forge Christian College, supra, at 473-474. 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. See Brief for United States 19-20, and n. 10; Brief for Appellees 32-33. By depriving beneficiaries of the money to which they would otherwise be entitled, a cancellation would produce an injury that is "actual," "personal and individual," and involve harm to a "legally protected interest," Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560, and n. 1 (1992) (internal quotation marks omitted); assuming the canceled provision would not apply equally to the entire public, the injury would be "concrete," id., at 560, 573-574; and it would be "fairly trace[able] to the challenged action of the" executive officials involved in the cancellation, id., at 560 (internal quotation marks omitted), as well as probably "redress[able] by a favorable decision," id., at 561 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). See, e.g., Train v. City of New York, 420 U.S. 35, 40 (1975) (suit by City of New York seeking proper allotment of federal funds). While the Court has declined to lower standing requirements simply because no one would otherwise be able to litigate a claim, see Valley Forge Christian College, 454 U. S., at 489; Schlesinger, 418 U. S., at 227; United States v. Richardson, supra, at 179, the certainty of a plaintiff who obviously would have standing to bring a suit to court after the politics had at least subsided from a full boil is a good reason to resolve doubts about standing against the plaintiff invoking an official interest, cf. Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Comm., 341 U. S., at 153-154 (Frankfurter, J., concurring) (explaining that the availability of another person to bring suit may affect the standing calculus).

I therefore conclude that appellees’ alleged injuries are insufficiently personal and concrete to satisfy Article III standing requirements of personal and concrete harm. Since this would be so in any suit under the conditions here, I accordingly find no cognizable injury to appellees.


Justice Stevens, dissenting.

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….

…[T]he appellees convincingly explain how the immediate, constant threat of the partial veto power has a palpable effect on their current legislative choices. See Brief for Appellees 23-25, 29-31. 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. See 2 U. S. C. A. § 692(a)(1) (Supp. 1997).

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.


Justice Breyer, dissenting.

…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.