1 minute read

Pocket Veto Case

A Definition Of Adjournment

On 27 May, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the court of claims' decision not to hear the Okanogan claims. In the written opinion, Justice Sanford emphasized that Congress had no power to shorten or lengthen the amount of time a president was allowed to consider a bill. The Court placed responsibility for providing the ten-day consideration period on Congress, which had adjourned without giving the president the required time to sign the bill or apply a normal veto.

Even under this interpretation, the case centered upon what the Constitution meant by the word "adjournment." The Court agreed with Attorney General Mitchell's contention that an adjournment as referred to in the ten-day rule meant any cessation of congressional activity. The Constitution did not qualify its definition with the word "final." Since there was no mention of "legislative days" or any other descriptive adjective in the Constitution, the Court declared that the rule simply applied to ten calendar days.

Past Congresses and presidents had accepted the use of pocket vetoes for over a century. In judging constitutional issues, the Court concluded, such a "long settled and well established practice" could not be ignored.

Ironically, President Coolidge, whose missing signature brought about the suit, left office before the Court finally and officially legitimized the use of pocket vetoes. In 1938, in its Wright v. United States decision, the Court declared that a clerk or other representative of Congress could receive a presidential veto during a short recess and deliver it upon Congress's return. While this had the practical effect of providing a ten-day period for executive perusal of new legislation even when Congress was not in its chambers, later presidents continued to employ pocket vetoes, often with controversial results.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Pocket Veto Case - The Pocket Veto, President Coolidge's Pocket Veto And The Washington Tribes, A Definition Of Adjournment