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Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha


The typical one-house legislative veto is unconstitutional because it violates both the president's veto power and the bicameral structure of Congress.

Jagdish Rai Chadha was an East Indian native who, in 1966, was admitted into the United States on a nonimmigrant student visa. Although his visa expired in 1972, he remained in the United States. In 1974, he was ordered by the Director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to appear in court and show cause why he should not be deported out of the United States. Pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act, a deportation hearing was held to determine if Chadha should be forced to leave the country. During the hearing, Chadha admitted that he overstayed his visa, but requested that his deportation be suspended. Section 244(a)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act permitted the attorney general, at his discretion, to order such a suspension. The suspension was ordered because, among other things, "it would be difficult if not impossible for Chadha to return to Kenya or Great Britain due to his East Indian derivation." As mandated by the Immigration and Nationality Act, Congress was given notice of the suspension. The suspension remained in effect for a year and a half, but in December of 1975, the House of Representatives, acting under the permitted authority of the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 244(c)(2), vetoed the suspension and reopened the case. Although Chadha objected to the reopening of the case, claiming section 244(c)(2) was unconstitutional, the immigration judge determined that it had no authority to rule on Chadha's objection and ordered his deportation. Chadha appealed the deportation determination to the Board of Immigration Appeals, but it affirmed the lower court ruling.

Under Section 106(a) of the act, Chadha filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals to review his deportation. The Immigration and Naturalization Service joined Chadha in arguing that the veto provision, allowed by section 244(c) of the act, was unconstitutional. The court of appeals agreed that the legislative veto provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers doctrine. The court ruled that the House, which represents the legislative branch of government, was taking the veto power out of the hands of the president, who represents the executive branch. The act permitting one house of the legislative branch to veto the decision of the attorney general consequently allowed the legislature to retain an executive function. Circuit Court Judge Kennedy then directed the attorney general to stop any actions in furtherance of Chadha's deportation based on the House of Representatives resolution.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, through a petition for a writ for certiorari. Certiorari was granted and the case was argued before the Supreme Court on 22 February 1982 and reargued on 7 October 1982. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court held the legislative veto to be unconstitutional. However, unlike the lower court, the Supreme Court did not base its reasoning on the separation of powers doctrine, but rather on bicameralism and the Presentment Clause. Thus, although the Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts ruling, the rationale behind the reaffirmation was entirely different. Further, the Court ruled that Section 244(c)(2) was severable from the remainder of the act and the act remained a valid law. In other words, the Court did not deem the entire act to violate the Constitution, but rather, the legislative veto could be struck down without tampering with the validity of the rest of the act.

The key decision of the Supreme Court was the determination of whether the legislative veto exercised by the House of Representatives constituted an act of legislative power. If it was not an act of legislative power, then the Court might have used the same rationale of the lower court, specifically the violation of the separation of powers. However, the Court ruled that the legislative veto before them constituted legislative power. To determine if an act is an exercise of such power, the court must consider whether the act had the "purpose and effect of altering the legal rights, duties and relations of persons . . . outside the legislative branch." Since the legislative veto overruled the attorney general's determination not to deport Chadha, it affected the duties of an individual outside the legislative branch. Thus, the veto was a legislative power. Consequently, the Court ruled that the legislative veto was an act of legislative power and could, therefore, not use the rationale that it was a violation of the separation of powers, as the lower court did. However, congressional acts which have the purpose and effect of legislative power are acts which require bicamerality and presentment.

Article I, Sections 1 and 7 of the United States Constitution require both houses to pass a bill before it becomes a law. In the Immigration and Nationality Act, either house can veto the attorney general's suspension of deportation. The single house veto provision clearly violated the bicameral requirement of the Constitution.

Furthermore, the Court found that the act's legislative veto violated the Presentment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Article I, Section 7, Clause 2 of the Constitution states that the Presentment Clause is found in the United States Constitution, Article I, Section 7, Clause 3. It states that, in order for a bill to become a law, the bill must be presented to the president of the United States and be either signed or vetoed, with the acknowledgement that Congress can override a veto. If the president signs the bill or Congress overrides the presidential veto, then it becomes a law. In the case before the courts, one house vetoed Chadha's deportation suspension and ordered him deported. The congressional decision was never presented to the president and since the Court determined the veto to be a legislative power, the Constitution demands such a presentment. Therefore, the Court ruled that this type of legislative veto was unconstitutional because it violated bicameralism and presentment.

The framers of the Constitution developed this finely tuned and exhaustive procedure in order to ensure that laws were well thought out and legislative power only exercised after an "opportunity for full study and debate in seperate settings." Furthermore, the Court noted that the one-house veto may be a faster way of achieving authority over aliens.

The veto authorized by Section 244(c)(2) doubtless has been, in many respects, a convenient shortcut; the "sharing" with the Executive by Congress of its authority over aliens in this manner is, on its face, an appealing compromise. In purely practical terms, it is obviously easier for action to be taken by one House without submission to the president; but it is crystal clear from the records of the Convention, contemporaneous writings and debates, that the Framers ranked other values higher than efficiency.

Thus, the Court ruled that efficiency is not a reason for bypassing the procedures outlined in the Constitution. Furthermore, where the framers intended one House to bypass the procedures of bicameralism and presentment, they specifically and narrowly defined those exceptions. Areas where one House can act outside the scope of presentment and bicameralism include: Article I, Section 2, Clause 6, allowing the House of Representatives alone the power to initiate impeachment; Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, allowing the Senate alone the power to approve or disapprove presidential appointments; and Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, granting the Senate the power to ratify treaties. The Court noted that nowhere does the legislative veto found in the act fit into any exceptions to the normal procedures. Thus, the veto was unconstitutional and Chadha was allowed to have his deportation suspended.

The decision in this case showed that the only way Congress could reverse the attorney general's decision on suspending deportation was to pass a law under the normal rules of bicameralism and presentment. Thus, the Supreme Court protected both Chadha's and the attorney general's constitutional rights. Additionally, the decision protected the framers' intentions, written almost one hundred years earlier.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha - Significance, Further Readings