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Frankenlaw!
March 12, 2007 11:22 AM   Subscribe

The partial veto, enshrined in the Wisconsin Constitution since 1930, gives the governor the power to veto only a portion of a bill passed by the legislature. Since then, governors, both Republican and Democratic, have gotten increasingly creative about its application -- vetoing the word "not" to reverse the meaning of a bill, vetoing digits out of numbers to reduce appropriations, even vetoing individual letters from words in order to create new text, Humument-style. (This last power, the so-called "Vanna White" veto, was removed by Constitutional amendment in 1990.) Another attempt to strip the governor of the partial veto has just failed. Doesn't it sound like fun to be governor of Wisconsin? Try it yourself.
posted by escabeche (33 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is better than Mad-libs.
posted by Gungho at 11:57 AM on March 12, 2007


THOMPSON'S PENIS A SWORD
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:16 PM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


The governor may party all day in an intoxicated state.

I hereby announce my candidacy!
posted by Hlewagast at 12:49 PM on March 12, 2007


vetoing the word "not" to reverse the meaning of a bill ... vetoing digits out of numbers to reduce appropriations

And that right there is the reason line-item veto is a bad idea; while the latter is arguably a "good" use (reigning in the tax and spend legislature), the former is definitely terrible, and there's no good way to draft line-item veto legislation that can meaningfully distinguish between the two.

Fortunately, it won't happen soon on the federal level; the only attempt so far was rather swiftly struck as unconstitutional (well, "swiftly" after they danced around the justiciability issue). What it basically comes down to is that the Congress must present a law to the executive for signing, and when he rewrites it, it is no longer the same law as the one presented. Hope Wisconsin likes their super executive-plus-legislator, all rolled into one.
posted by rkent at 12:55 PM on March 12, 2007


This is crazy!
posted by serazin at 1:02 PM on March 12, 2007


As a measure to increase state and national security, as well to control the population, every legal resident of Wisconsin shall be taken into custody and frozen to death, in order of age, beginning April 1, 2007; the current governor shall determine any exemptions and shall have the supreme authority to rule over any related trial.

Indeed, way better than mad-libs.
posted by zennie at 1:35 PM on March 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


I hereby announce my candidacy!

I hereby announce your candy-assy
posted by srboisvert at 1:46 PM on March 12, 2007


Not to interrupt the fun with seriousness, but it is totally possible to draft a "line item veto" law which distinguishes between changing budget numbers and allowing crucial words like not to be taken out of bills. The Federal line item veto did exactly this. It applied only to appropriations, and only allowed the President to decrease funding to reduce the budget deficit. It wasn't really a "line item veto," so much as a statement that all spending bills were to be considered discretionary. Why on Earth that Supreme Court was fooled into thinking it was unconstitutional by the name is harder to figure out.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:52 PM on March 12, 2007


This is the so-called Frankenstein Veto that has everyone up in arms -- well, mostly Republicans. Naturally, the Republicans loved the line-item veto when they held the governorship (for 16 years running, most of it Tommy Thompson, who quit to be HHS Secretary (weirdly, succeeding another Wisconsinite), and must be smarter than he looks).

Mostly, the GOP is in the minority in the State Senate (they still hold the Assembly), so they're playing lose-lose politics.
posted by dhartung at 1:56 PM on March 12, 2007


Wow, you can really go to town with that veto. Imagine the surprise on legislators' faces when a spending bill is enacted into law as:

"Residents must kill, and prepare for eating, one family member each year."
posted by Mr Pointy at 2:40 PM on March 12, 2007


Is this constitutional? Doesn't a veto have be total?
posted by amberglow at 3:12 PM on March 12, 2007


Clearly we must now give someone else even more power! And that guy can fix everything. But it has to be a guy we really trust.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:13 PM on March 12, 2007


Is this constitutional?

It's in their constitution, so, by definition, yes.
posted by dmd at 3:53 PM on March 12, 2007


Is this constitutional? Doesn't a veto have be total?

The partial veto power comes directly from Wisconsin's constitution. If your question is whether the U.S. constitution trumps the state law, the answer is no.
posted by brain_drain at 3:53 PM on March 12, 2007


Is this constitutional? Doesn't a veto have be total?

This is a state matter, not federal. Go Google "states' rights."

Still, I was curious enough to look up the section of the US Constitution about vetos. It bears only a family resemblance to my understanding of how the process actually works:

Section 7 - Revenue Bills, Legislative Process, Presidential Veto

All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
posted by gleuschk at 3:55 PM on March 12, 2007


that's weird--why is there so much fighting over line-item vetoes federally then? Is it purely a Congressional thing and not a legal/constitutional thing?

I can't believe it doesn't infringe on rights to have this kind of partial veto. It directly conflicts with lawmaker power and our own voices as expressed thru lawmaker action. (Signing statements too---but they're not binding i don't think, legally. Vetoes are.)
posted by amberglow at 4:28 PM on March 12, 2007


That whole "Congress shall make the laws" thing, no?
posted by amberglow at 4:29 PM on March 12, 2007


Would the US Supreme Court uphold this? Has it ever been?
posted by amberglow at 4:32 PM on March 12, 2007


@amberglow, et al.: as mentioned above, it's a matter of Wisconsin state law---in fact, it's an article of their constitution over there. The US Supreme Court has had, and will have, nothing to say on the issue. Federalism makes it pretty much none of their business.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 4:50 PM on March 12, 2007


It wasn't really a "line item veto," so much as a statement that all spending bills were to be considered discretionary.

That's inaccurate. The text of the law specifically allowed the President to "cancel" new line-items and new tax breaks, thereby changing the text of the relevant bills.

Why on Earth that Supreme Court was fooled into thinking it was unconstitutional

It's unconstitutional because Presidents only get to approve or veto bills, not modify them.

There are still constitutional ways to enact an effective federal line-item veto. The most obvious is to change congressional procedure so that instead of one spending bill with 1,000 line items, you have 1,000 bills with one line-item each. Or you could do as you described and make more spending at the President's discretion; this probably wouldn't require much more than weakening the various budget and impoundment acts.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:01 PM on March 12, 2007


I don't know, Flying--if those bills deal with federal funding or interstate commerce or anything the Supremes could totally deal with it. A Wisconsin citizen (or group) could even take it up there as well.

It's insane to me that voters approved this to begin with. It gives way way too much power to the Governor and makes the state legislature useless as maker of law and budgets.
posted by amberglow at 5:04 PM on March 12, 2007


amberglow, your argument doesn't make sense, even setting aside for a moment the lack of a federal question. As you point out, "voters approved this to begin with." The voters also narrowed the power in 1990, so clearly there's a will and a way to change things when the voters want. It doesn't seem to disenfranchise any particular group, since it applies no matter what parties or interests are in power. And the governor who exercises the power is elected by the people.

I agree that this veto power is bizarre and subject to abuse, but I just don't see how it's illegal or contrary to democracy.
posted by brain_drain at 5:16 PM on March 12, 2007


I don't know, Flying--if those bills deal with federal funding or interstate commerce or anything the Supremes could totally deal with it.

How? I think you are confused. The interstate commerce clause has nothing to do with the Supreme Court, but with the types of laws the U.S. Congress can make.
posted by grouse at 5:24 PM on March 12, 2007


OK, the closest that I have come so far to the start of the classic Sir Mix-A-Lot song is:
I like large arrears and I cannot claim false claims.
Yeah, I know, "arrears" is really stretching it, but hey, what are you going to do.

Can anyone come closer?
posted by Flunkie at 5:34 PM on March 12, 2007


Ooooh, even better:
I like large arrears and I cannot claim false claims. U other persons are not able to deny.
posted by Flunkie at 5:45 PM on March 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


amberglow, in the second linked .pdf document you can read about plenty of court challenges the partial veto; the Supreme Court of Wisconsin has repeatedly upheld it.

As for the federal courts, well, from the linked document:

"The federal courts upheld the governor’s veto power in both the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin (No. 90 C 215) and the United States District Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Fred A. Risser and David M. Travis v. Tommy G. Thompson, 930 F.2d 549 (7th Cir. 1991).
The U.S. Court of Appeals concluded that “Wisconsin’s partial veto provision as interpreted
by the state’s highest court is a rational measure for altering the balance of power between the branches. That it is unusual, even quirky, does not make it unconstitutional. It violates no federal constitutional provision because the federal Constitution does not fix the balance of power between branches of state government.” In October 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Risser v. Thompson, 502 U.S. 860 (1991)."
posted by escabeche at 5:49 PM on March 12, 2007


"Any man registered with the state who engages with another male in sex are to be paid $1,000,000 each month by the state to aid tourism."
posted by zylocomotion at 6:16 PM on March 12, 2007


This is just too bizarre for words...
posted by Vindaloo at 6:19 PM on March 12, 2007


I think you're wrong to say he's "altering the text of the bill", he's altering the effect of the bill, but the the item remains in the text, it just doesn't have any force. That said, I think the relevant question is, could Congress pass a law making all spending discretionary? It seems to me that they could, and I've never heard a convincing argument why they couldn't. This is effectively what they did. Sure, they used the phrase "line item veto" and "cancel", but the more important question is what the practical effect of the bill is, not what language they use. The practical effect of the Federal line item veto seems perfectly Constitutional to me, to make it so that any future spending(until such a time as Congress rescinds the line item veto law) is to be considered discretionary and allow the President to decline to spend it. It seems incredibly shortsighted for the Court to deny Congress in its attempt to enact a Constitutionally permissible goal, based on an overly narrow, formalistic interpretation of the word "cancel."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:46 PM on March 12, 2007


The governor may party with intoxicated women, as long as he does not assess their assets.

Oh, Wisconsin.
posted by Zephyrial at 8:33 PM on March 12, 2007


I think you're wrong to say he's "altering the text of the bill", he's altering the effect of the bill

Maybe. Doesn't really matter what you or I think, though. Six justices thought that it was essentially altering the text of the bill.

On the other hand, if they'd wanted to, Congress could have just started passing bills that said "The President may at his discretion spend the following, or lesser, amounts..." or similar language. They didn't do this. If we think there are reasons why Congress does and doesn't do things, we have to reject the idea that they were trying to make spending discretionary -- that bill would have looked different from the bill that passed.

It seems incredibly shortsighted for the Court to deny Congress in its attempt to enact a Constitutionally permissible goal, based on an overly narrow, formalistic interpretation of the word "cancel."

It's an utterly harmless decision that in no way limits the ability of Congress to grant the President an effective line-item veto. Any time Congress wants to, it can manage spending as a multitude of single-item bills instead of a few zillion-item bills. It can even arrange to pass them en masse if it really wants to. Then the President can veto any single line-item by vetoing a whole bill, just like the Constitution says.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:35 PM on March 12, 2007


What fun!
posted by jeffburdges at 2:39 AM on March 13, 2007




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