Burke v. Barnes – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket 1987-1988

This lawsuit challenges President Reagan’s use of a “pocket veto” to kill a bill unanimously passed by both Houses of Congress. The bill would have required the president to condition aid to El Salvador on that country’s protection of human rights. 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.

The CCR brought suit on behalf of 33 Members of Congress challenging the constitutionality of the president’s action. The Senate and the bipartisan leadership of the House joined us. The case raised the critical issue 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. On appeal, the Supreme Court ruled the case moot because the human rights bill was no longer in effect.

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