Burke v. Barnes – Government Misconduct – CCR Docket 1986-1987

This lawsuit challenges President Ronald Reagan’s use of a “pocket veto” to kill a bill unanimously passed by both Houses of Congress. The bill would have required him to condition aid to El Salvador on improvement of its human rights situation. Shortly after Secretary of State George Shultz admitted that the human rights sit­uation in El Salvador had not improved, the President took advantage of a break in Congress to “pocket veto” the bill. Unlike an ordinary veto, when a pocket veto is used, the bill does not go back to Congress for an override vote.

CCR brought suit on behalf of thirty-three Members of Congress challenging the constitutionality of the President’s action. Shortly thereafter, the Senate and the bipartisan leadership of the House intervened on the plaintiffs’ side. The case raises important issues of executive power and of Congress’ ability to seek judicial relief when the President oversteps consti­tutional bounds.

While the district court dismissed the action, the court of appeals sustained our motion. The President’s appeal will be argued before the Supreme Court in the fall.

David Cole, Michael Ratner, Margaret Ratner, with Michael Davidson, Senate Legal Counsel, and Steven Ross, General Counsel to the Clerk, House of Representatives