A veto, Latin for "I forbid", is the power of an officer of the state to unilaterally stop an official action, especially enactment of a piece of legislation. Veto: An emphatic prohibition of any sort.

In practice, the veto can be absolute, as for instance in the United Nations Security Council, whose permanent members (China, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and the United States of America) can block any resolution. Or, it can be limited, as in the legislative process of the United States, where a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate may override a Presidential veto of legislation.[1]

A veto only gives power to stop changes, not to adopt them. The veto therefore conveys to its holder an ability to protect the status quo.

The concept of a veto body originated with the Roman consuls 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 block legislation passed by the Roman Senate.[2]


Roman veto

The institution of the veto, known as the intercessio, was adopted by the Roman Republic in the 6th century BC as a way of enabling the tribunes to protect the interests of the plebs (common citizenry) from the encroachments of the patricians, who dominated the Senate. A tribune's veto did not prevent the senate from passing a bill, but meant that it was denied the force of law. The tribunes could also use the veto to prevent a bill from being brought before the plebeian assembly. The consuls also had the power of veto, as decisionmaking generally required the assent of both consuls. If one disagreed, either could invoke the intercessio to block the action of the other. The veto was an essential component of the Roman conception of power being wielded not only to manage state affairs but to moderate and restrict the power of the state's high officials and institution.[2]

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.

The House of Lords used to have the power of veto. However, reform first by a Liberal government and then by a Labour government has seen their powers limited. The Parliamentary Acts of 1911 and 1949 saw their powers reduced to being able to amend and delay legislation. They are able to delay legislation for up to one year. Under the 1911 Act, money bills may not be delayed, and under the Salisbury Convention, they cannot delay any bills laid out in the party's manifesto.

In Spain, the article 115 of the Constitution provides that the King shall give his assent to laws passed by the General Courts within 15 days after their final passement by them; the absence of the royal assent, although not constitutionally provided, would mean the bill not to become law.


Since the Statute of Westminster (1931), the United Kingdom Parliament may not 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.[3] 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.[3] 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.[4] This may be done without consulting the sovereign as per Section 58 of the constitution:

When a proposed law passed by both Houses of the Parliament is presented to the Governor-General for the Queen's assent, he shall declare, according to his discretion, but subject to this Constitution, that he assents in the Queen's name, or that he withholds assent, or that he reserves the law for the Queen's pleasure. The Governor-General may return to the house in which it originated any proposed law so presented to him, and may transmit therewith any amendments which he may recommend, and the Houses may deal with the recommendation.[5]

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.[6] 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. The power may also be used in a situation where the parliament, usually a hung parliament, passes a bill without the blessing of the executive. The governor general on the advice of the executive could withhold consent from the bill thereby preventing its passage into law.

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 may not veto (nor the UK Parliament 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.[7] 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.


The president enjoys the power to return a bill unsigned, but the constitution limits the power to send it back only once for reconsideration. If the parliament sends back the bill with or without changes, the president has to sign it. However, deliberately or inadvertently, the constitution does not set a time limit in which the president is obliged to approve the bill, and so he may withhold assent indefinitely. This has come to be known in legal and constitutional circles as the "Pocket Veto" and has been used on a number of occasions against controversial bills. Former President Giani Zail Singh withheld assent to a Bill passed by Parliament that gave sweeping powers to the State to intercept mail. This was considered by the President to be an encroachment on citizens' freedom of speech and liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution. He was about to dismiss the government of Rajiv Gandhi because of the reason that the prime minister of that government had failed to give the information to the President. Former President Ramaswamy Venkataraman withheld assent to a Bill passed by the outgoing Members of Parliament that gave pension benefits to themselves. This was interpreted by the President to be self-aggrandizement.[8]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the royal veto ("withholding Royal Assent") was last exercised in 1707 by Queen Anne with the Scottish Militia Bill 1708.


According to the British North America Act, 1867, the Governor General of Canada may veto a bill by refusing Royal Assent. If the Governor General withholds the Queen's assent, the sovereign may within two years disallow the bill, thereby vetoing the law in question. However, this power has never been used.

Provincial viceroys, Lieutenant Governors, however are able to reserve Royal Assent to provincial bills for the governor general; this clause was last invoked in 1961 by the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan.

United States

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). According to Article 1. Section 7 of the Constitution, when the president chooses, 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 adjourns, 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.

Modifications declared unconstitutional

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 Court 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, 524 U.S. 417 (1998).)

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 Ohio who had been born in Kenya but whose parents were from India. 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.

Early federal history

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 President George Washington vetoed a bill outlining a new apportionment formula submitted by then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Apportionment described how Congress divides seats in the House of Representatives among the states based on the U.S. census figures. President Washington thought the bill gave an unfair advantage to the northern states.

The Congress first overrode a presidential veto—that is, passed a bill into law notwithstanding the President's objections—on March 3, 1845.[9]

U.S. states and amendatory veto

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.

In seven U.S. states, the governor has an amendatory veto. For example, in Illinois, the governor can make specific recommendations for changes to a bill. The state legislature can then approve the changes by majority vote, or override the amendatory veto with a 60% majority. No law is passed if the legislature does not accept the changes.[10]

European parliamentary republics

Presidential veto

Parliamentary republics in Europe, including Italy, Portugal, the Republic of Ireland, France, Latvia, the Ukraine, and Hungary often allow a form of limited presidential veto on legislation.

The President of Austria does not technically have veto power. However, the president can order a referendum on a bill passed by the legislature if he refuses to sign it.

The President of Iceland can refuse to sign a bill, which is then put to universal adult suffrage. This right was not exercised until 2004 by president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, who has since refused to sign two other bills. The first bill was withdrawn, but the latter two resulted in referenda.

The President of Hungary has two options to veto a bill: submit it to the Constitutional Court in case of any suspicion that it violates the constitution or send it back to the Parliament and ask for a second debate and vote on the bill. If the Court rules that the bill is constitutional or it is passed by the Parliament again, respectively, the President must sign it.

The President of Ireland can refuse to grant assent to a bill considered to be unconstitutional, after first consulting the Council of State; in this case, the bill is referred to the Irish Supreme Court, which finally determines the matter. This is the most widely used reserve power. The President may also, on request of a majority of the Senate and a third of Dáil Éireann (the lower house of parliament), after consulting the Council of State, decline to sign a bill "of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained" in an ordinary referendum or a new Dáil reassembling after a general election held within eight months. This latter power has never been used because the government of the day almost always commands a majority of the Senate, preventing the third of Dáil Éireann that usually makes up the opposition from combining with it.

The President of 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 Republic can also call new Parliament elections.

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 Poland can submit bill to the Constitutional Tribunal (if he suspects that bill is unconstitutional), or send it back to the Sejm for the second voting. If the Tribunal will say that the bill is constitutional or if Sejm will pass it by the majority of three-fifths of votes than President must sign the bill.

The President of Portugal can refuse to sign a bill or refer it or parts of it to the Portuguese Constitutional Court. If the President refuses to sign bill without it being declared unconstitutional, the Assembly of the Republic (parliament) may pass it again and it becomes law regardless anyway.

The President of Ukraine can refuse to sign a bill and return it to Parliament with his proposals. If the parliament agrees on his proposals, the President must sign the bill. Parliament can overturn a veto by a two-thirds majority. If the parliament overturns his veto, the President must sign the bill within 10 days, or the Chairman of the Parliament signs it.

Liberum veto

In the constitution of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Poland, 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.

See also


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • veto — veto …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • veto — ve·to 1 / vē tō/ n pl ve·toes [Latin, I forbid, refuse assent to] 1: an authoritative prohibition 2 a: a power vested in a chief executive to prevent permanently or temporarily the enactment of measures passed by a legislature b: the exercise of… …   Law dictionary

  • veto — ve‧to [ˈviːtəʊ ǁ toʊ] verb [transitive] LAW to officially refuse to allow something to happen, especially something other people have agreed: • An attempt to use £35 million to strengthen the bank s capital was vetoed by bank regulators. veto… …   Financial and business terms

  • veto — VÉTO, vetouri, s.n. Drept excepţional pe care îl are cineva (recunoscut prin lege sau prin convenţii) de a se opune adoptării unei propuneri sau unei hotărâri; formulă prin care se exercită acest drept. – Din lat., fr. veto. Trimis de RACAI,… …   Dicționar Român

  • Veto — Sn Einspruch erw. fach. (18. Jh.) Entlehnung. Entlehnt aus frz. veto m., einer Hypostase von l. veto ich verbiete , zu l. vetāre verbieten, nicht geschehen lassen . Mit dieser Formel konnten die römischen Volkstribunen Einspruch gegen… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • Veto — Ve to, n.; pl. {Vetoes}. [L. veto I forbid.] [1913 Webster] 1. An authoritative prohibition or negative; a forbidding; an interdiction. [1913 Webster] This contemptuous veto of her husband s on any intimacy with her family. G. Eliot. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • veto — vȇto m DEFINICIJA pol. pravn. pravo člana nekog udruženja, pojedinca ili države da spriječi donošenje zaključka ili izvršenje odluke većine [apsolutni veto; suspenzivni veto] ETIMOLOGIJA lat. veto: zabranjujem ← vetare: zabraniti, ne dopustiti …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • veto — (Del lat. veto, yo vedo o prohíbo). 1. m. Derecho que tiene una persona o corporación para vedar o impedir algo. U. principalmente para significar el atribuido según las Constituciones al jefe del Estado o a la segunda Cámara, respecto de las… …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Veto — Жанры Инди рок Альтернативный рок Электро Годы 2004 года наши дни …   Википедия

  • veto — |é| s. m. 1. Oposição, recusa. 2. Fórmula que empregavam, em Roma, os tribunos do povo, para se oporem a um decreto do Senado. 3. Instituição pela qual uma autoridade pode opor se à entrada em vigor de uma lei (veto absoluto ou suspensivo do… …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • Veto — »Einspruch‹srecht›«: Das seit dem 18. Jh. bezeugte, dem politischen und parlamentarischen Bereich angehörende Fremdwort ist aus gleichbedeutend frz. veto entlehnt. Dies ist substantiviert aus lat. veto »ich verbiete«, der ersten Person Singular… …   Das Herkunftswörterbuch