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A veto, Latin for "I forbid", is used to denote that a certain party has the right to stop unilaterally a piece of legislation. In practice, the veto can be absolute (as in the U.N. Security Council, whose permanent members can block any resolution) or limited (as in the legislative process of the United Statesmarker, where a two thirds vote in both the House and Senate may override a Presidential veto of legislation).

A veto gives power, possibly unlimited, to stop changes, but not to adopt them. The influence that the veto conveys to its holder is therefore directly proportional to the holder's conservatism, broadly defined. The more the holder of a veto supports the status quo, the more useful the veto.

The concept of a veto body originated with the Roman consul and tribunes. Either of the two consuls holding office in a given year could block a military or civil decision by the other; any tribune had the power to unilaterally refuse legislation passed by the Roman Senate.

Papal elections

The term veto or exclusion or royal veto was also used to denote a form of secular interference in papal conclaves. Certain Catholic monarchs, such of those of Francemarker, Austriamarker, and Spainmarker, were acknowledged, tacitly at least, as having the right to exclude a cardinal as a candidate for election. The last time the veto was exercised was by Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary, to exclude Cardinal Mariano Rampolla, in 1903. Rampolla was not elected, and the new pope, James from Brehm, revoked the practice. Secular interference of any kind in a papal election is now forbidden in canon law.

United Nations

In the United Nations Security Council, the five permanent members (the United Statesmarker, Russiamarker, the People's Republic of Chinamarker, Francemarker and the United Kingdommarker) have veto power in substantive matters, though not in procedural ones. If any of these countries votes against a proposal, it is rejected, even if all of the other member countries vote in favour. This provision was designed to ensure that the Council could not be used to authorize military action without the assent of all of the five Great Powers; there was a distinct fear that failure to receive such assent would allow the powers to abuse the Council's power to authorize police actions to the detriment of another. The principle is illustrated by the Korean War, in which a boycott of the Council by the Soviet Unionmarker allowed UNSC Resolution 82 to pass and a war to be started contrary to that Power's interests.

Westminster Systems

In Westminster Systems and most constitutional monarchies, the power to veto legislation by withholding the Royal Assent is a rarely used reserve power of the monarch. In practice, the Crown follows the convention of exercising its prerogative on the advice of its chief advisor, the prime minister.

In Spain there is no constitutional possibility of an extraparliamentary veto. Only some matters that are passed in Parliament must have the assent of the Government (i.e. budget).


Since the Statute of Westminster (1931), the Crown of the United Kingdom and its Parliament may not veto or repeal any Act of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia on the grounds that is repugnant to the laws and interests of the United Kingdom[11382]. Other countries in the Commonwealth of Nations (not to be confused with the Commonwealth of Australia), such as Canada and New Zealand, are likewise affected. However, according to the Australian Constitution (sec. 59), the Queen may veto a bill that has been given royal assent by the Governor-General within one year of the legislation being assented to[11383].This power has never been used. The Australian Governor-General himself or herself has, in theory, power to veto, or more technically, withhold assent to, a bill passed by both houses of the Australian Parliament, and contrary to the advice of the prime minister[11384]. This may be done without consulting the sovereign. This reserve power is however, constitutionally arguable, and it is difficult to foresee an occasion when such a power would need to be exercised. It is possible that a Governor-general might so act if a bill passed by the Parliament was criminal, illegal or in violation of the Constitution[11385]. One might argue, however, that a government would be hardly likely to present a bill which is so open to rejection. Many of the vice-regal reserve powers are untested, because of the brief constitutional history of the Commonwealth of Australia, and the observance of the convention that the head of state acts upon the advice of his or her chief minister.

With regard to the six governors of the states which are federated under the Australian Commonwealth, a somewhat different situation exists. Until the Australia Act 1986, each state was constitutionally dependent upon the British Crown directly. Since 1986, however, they are fully independent entities, although the Queen still appoints governors on the advice of the state head of government, the premier. So the Crown or UK Parliament may not veto or overturn any act of a state governor or state legislature. Paradoxically, the states are more independent of the Crown than the federal government and legislature[11386]. State constitutions determine what role a governor plays. In general the governor exercises the powers the sovereign would have, including the power to withhold the Royal Assent.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the royal veto was last exercised in 1707 or 1708 by Queen Anne with the Scottish Militia Bill 1708.

In nations of the Commonwealth where the Westminster System is followed, the reserve power, and therefore the power of withholding the Royal Assent, is generally exercised by the representative of Queen Elizabeth II, usually styled Governor-General or Governor. The nature of the power and how it is exercised may be, and usually is, determined by the legislatures of the nations.

United States

The word "veto" does not appear in the United States Constitution. Per U.S. Const., Article I, Section 7 all legislation passed by both houses of Congress must be presented to the President. This presentation is in the President's capacity as head of state.

If the President approves of the legislation, he signs it (sign into law). If he does not approve, he must return the bill, unsigned, within ten days, excluding Sundays, to the house of the United States Congress in which it originated, while the Congress is in session. The President is constitutionally required to state his objections to the legislation in writing, and the Congress is constitutionally required to consider them, and to reconsider the legislation. This action, in effect, is a veto.

If the Congress overrides the veto by a two-thirds majority in each house, it becomes law without the President's signature. Otherwise, the bill fails to become law unless it is presented to the President again and he chooses to sign it.

A bill can also become law without the President's signature if, after it is presented to him, he simply fails to sign it within the ten days noted. If there are fewer than ten days left in the session before Congress adjourn, and if Congress does so adjourn before the ten days have expired in which the President might sign the bill, then the bill fails to become law. This procedure, when used as a formal device, is called a pocket veto.

In 1996, the Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed, the Line Item Veto Act of 1996. This act allowed the President to veto individual items of budgeted expenditures from appropriations bills instead of vetoing the entire bill and sending it back to the Congress. However, this line-item veto was immediately challenged by members of Congress who disagreed with it. In 1998, the Supreme Courtmarker declared that the line-item veto was unconstitutional. The Court found the language of the Constitution required each bill presented to the President to be either approved or rejected as a whole. An action by which the President might pick and choose which parts of the bill to approve or not approve amounted to the President acting as a legislator instead of an executive and head of state - and particularly as a single legislator acting in place of the entire Congress - thereby violating the separation of powers doctrine. (See Clinton v. City of New York, .)

In 2006, Senator Bill Frist introduced the Legislative Line Item Veto Act of 2006 in the United States Senate. Rather than provide for an actual legislative veto, however, the procedure created by the Act provides that, if the President should recommend rescission of a budgetary line item from a budget bill he previously signed into law - a power he already possesses pursuant to U.S. Const. Art. II - the Congress must vote on his request within ten days. Because the legislation that is the subject of the President's request (or "Special Message," in the language of the bill) was already enacted and signed into law, the vote by the Congress would be ordinary legislative action, not any kind of veto - whether line-item, legislative or any other sort. The House passed this measure, but the Senate never considered it, so the bill expired and never became law.

In 1982, the Supreme Court had struck down the one-house legislative veto, also on separation of powers grounds and on grounds that the action by one house of Congress violated the Constitutional requirement of bicameralism. The case was INS v. Chadha, concerning a foreign exchange student in Ohiomarker who had been born in Kenyamarker but whose parents were from Indiamarker. Because he was not born in India, he was not an Indian citizen. Because his parents were not Kenyan citizens, he was not Kenyan. Thus, he had nowhere to go when his student visa expired because neither country would take him, so he overstayed his visa and was ordered to show cause why he should not be deported from the United States.

The Immigration and Nationality Act was one of many acts of Congress passed since the 1930s, which contained a provision allowing either house of that legislature to nullify decisions of agencies in the executive branch simply by passing a resolution. In this case, Chadha's deportation was suspended and the House of Representatives passed a resolution overturning the suspension, so that the deportation proceedings would continue. This, the Court held, amounted to the House of Representatives passing legislation without the concurrence of the Senate, and without presenting the legislation to the President for consideration and approval (or veto). Thus, the Constitutional principle of bicameralism and the separation of powers doctrine were disregarded in this case, and this legislative veto of executive decisions was struck down.

The Presidents of the Continental Congress (1774 - 1781) did not have the power of veto. Nor could the President veto an act of Congress under the Articles of Confederation (1781 - 1789), though he possessed certain recess and reserve powers that were not necessarily available to the predecessor President of Continental Congress. But with the enactment of the United States Constitution (drafted 1787; ratified 1788; fully effective since 4 March 1789), veto power was conferred upon the person titled "President of the United States."

The presidential veto power was first exercised on April 5, 1792 when George Washington vetoed a bill designed to apportion representatives among the several states. The Congress first overrode a presidential veto - that is, passed a bill into law notwithstanding the President's objections - on March 3, 1845.

Most U.S. states also have a provision by which legislative decisions can be vetoed by the governor. In addition, most of these states allow the governor to exercise a line-item veto.

European Parliamentary Republics

Presidential veto

Parliamentary republics in Europe, including Italymarker, Portugalmarker, Irelandmarker, Francemarker and Latviamarker, often allow a form of limited presidential veto on legislation.

The President of Iceland can refuse to sign a bill which is then put to universal adult suffrage.

The President of Ireland can refuse to grant assent to a bill which he/she considers to be unconstitutional, on the advice of the Council of State; in this case the bill is referred to the Supreme Court of Ireland, which finally determines the matter.

The President of Italy (Rome is in Italy) can request a second deliberation of a bill passed by Parliament before it is promulgated. This is very weak form of veto, as the Parliament can override the veto by an ordinary majority. The same provision exists in France and Latvia. While such a limited veto cannot thwart the will of a determined parliamentary majority, it may have a delaying effect, and may cause the parliamentary majority to reconsider the matter.

The President of Portugal can refuse to sign a bill and return it to Parliament with his proposals. If the parliament agrees on this proposals the President should sign a bill. Parliament can overturn a veto by 2/3 majority.

The President of Latvia may suspend a bill for a period of two months, during which it may be referred to the people in a referendum if a certain number of signatures are gathered. This is potentially a much stronger form of veto, as it enables the President to appeal to the people against the wishes of the Parliament and Government.

The President of Ukraine, just like the Portuguese President, can refuse to sign a bill and return it to Parliament with his proposals. If the parliament agrees on this proposals the President should sign a bill. Parliament can overturn a veto by 2/3 majority. If the parliament overturn a veto President should sign a bill. If he fails to do so in 10 days then the Chairman of a parliament signs it.

Liberum veto

In the constitution of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Polandmarker, there was an institution called the liberum veto. All bills had to pass the Sejm (Parliament) by unanimous consent, and if any legislator voted nay on anything, this not only vetoed that bill but dissolved that legislative session itself. The concept originated in the idea of "Polish democracy", that any Pole of noble extraction was as good as any other, no matter how low or high his material condition might be. It was never exercised in practice under the rule of the strong Polish royal dynasties, but these came to an end in the mid-17th century, and were followed by an elective kingship. As might be expected, the more and more frequent use of this veto power paralyzed the power of the legislature, and, combined with a string of weak figurehead kings, led ultimately to the partitioning and dissolution of the Polish state in the following century.

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