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Legislative Powers

Legislative Powers And The President

In Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha (1983) the range of legislative power in relation to that of the executive came under review. The case called into question the power of Congress to include legislation provisions that would enable the legislature to negate the president's or others' enforcement of legislation should the executive deviate from what Congress considered to be the design of the law. This practice, know as the "legislative veto," was declared unconstitutional in Chadha on the ground that it overstepped the boundaries of congressional authority in the realm of law making. The Immigration and Naturalization Act had granted the Attorney General the authority to make decisions concerning whether deportable aliens could be permitted to remain in the country. However, the act also included a provision that enabled Congress to override the decisions made by the Attorney General. In this case the Attorney General had permitted Chadha to remain in the country while Congress elected to deport him. The Court ruled that Congress did not have the authority to veto enforcement decisions after legislation had been passed. Despite the efforts by the Court to curtail the use of the legislative veto it is still commonly practiced by Congress today.

The relationship of power between the president and Congress has also been defined by the ability of Congress to delegate power to the executive. Delegation power pertains to the activities of which Congress authorized the president and agencies to engage in to meet the objectives of a given piece of legislation. In the Tariff Act of 1922 Congress had delegated to the president the discretion to raise or lower tariffs in accordance with U.S. foreign trade interests. J. W. Hampton Jr., and Company, a victim of a tariff increase, challenged the constitutionality of this act on the basis that it authorized too much power to the president. In J. W. Hampton Jr., and Co. v. United States (1928) the Court found no constitutional indiscretion with Congress delegating authority to the president to fix tariff rates.

Although the justification for congressional delegation of power to the president was apparent in this case the Court would later place limits on this power. In Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan (1935) the Court held that specific parameters must be laid down in the delegation of power to the president to enforce legislative statutes. In this case the president was given the discretion to set ceilings on crude oil production in order to equalize supply and demand fluctuations between states. Because of the Great Depression Congress seemed justified in granting such broad latitude to the president to regulate interstate oil transactions. The Court, however, did not see it this way finding that Congress must set specific parameters on the delegation of power to the president and agencies to enforce laws.

The delegation power of Congress recently came under the scrutiny of the Court in a case involving the constitutionality of the line-item veto. The Line Item Veto Act, which granted the power to the president to alter legislation after passage, was challenged by Senator Robert Byrd in Raines v. Byrd (1997). Although the act only granted the president authority to strike certain sections of appropriations bills, those who voted against the measure feared an overextension of executive power over the legislature. Senator Byrd and others argued that the act violated their Article I voting power in that laws that they had approved could be subsequently nullified by the president under the act. The senators claimed that the act put them in "a position of unanticipated and unwelcome subservience to the president" (Byrd). Although the Court agreed with the reasoning of the petitioners, it could not nullify the statute because the members of Congress who objected to the line-item veto and filed suit did not provide sufficient evidence of injury. In other words, there had yet to be a line-item veto to which they were constitutionally entitled to object. However in Clinton v. City of New York (1998) the Court ruled that the power delegated to the president in the Line Item Veto Act was unconstitutional.

Although the majority of the legal debates involving legislative powers can be divided into the general categories of legislative power versus state power and legislative power versus presidential power, the Court has also resolved constitutional matters regarding legislative investigative powers. During the peak of the Cold War there was a growing concern that members of the Communist party in the United States were undermining American democracy. In the minds of many Americans the efforts by members of Congress and, in particular the often unjustified allegations of Senator Joseph McCarthy, to expose Communist party activity constituted a violation of civil rights. Congress therefore held a number of investigative hearings in an effort to incriminate "un-American" activities. In Watkins v. United States (1957) Chief Justice Earl Warren ruled that although Congress has the authority to conduct hearings as part of the legislative process it does not have the authority to probe into the private affairs of individuals. "There is no general authority to expose the private affairs of individuals without justification in terms of the functions of the Congress" (Watkins).

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationGreat American Court CasesLegislative Powers - Governmental Structure, Congressional Powers, Legislative Powers And The States, Legislative Powers And The President