The Extra-Legislative Veto

61 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2013 Last revised: 15 Jan 2014

See all articles by Michael Sant'Ambrogio

Michael Sant'Ambrogio

Michigan State University - College of Law

Date Written: October 10, 2013


Presidents check statutory mandates outside the legislative process in a variety of ways. They may hold up implementation of a law, decide not to enforce a law, or decline to defend a law, to name just a few of the ways. The article argues that these “extra-legislative vetoes” serve functions similar to the President’s Article I veto, only with respect to enacted law. The extra-legislative veto (1) requires that legal mandates maintain a threshold level of political support, (2) allows the President to protect the people from (in the President’s view) bad laws, and (3) encourages deliberation regarding controversial policies. But the extra-legislative veto also poses dangers to our Madisonian system by virtue of the distinct institutional constraints on its exercise. A unilateral check on congressional acts threatens to transform the President into a “Legislator in Chief” and undermine the stability and transparency of government policy.

Based on this reconceptualization of the extra-legislative veto, the article reviews some of its most prominent forms. The article concludes that decisions not to defend a statute provide some of the benefits of an extra-legislative veto without raising significant concerns with transparency, executive lawmaking, or policy destabilization. Enforcement policies provide greater deliberation-forcing benefits, political responsiveness, and protection from “bad law,” but also increase executive lawmaking. While judicial review sets boundaries on policy instability, it does little to ensure the transparency of enforcement discretion. Conversely, judicial review of rulemaking does a better job promoting the transparency of statutory implementation, but limits the extra-legislative veto’s political responsiveness. Finally, the presidential non-enforcement theory recently advanced by some scholars would dramatically increase the President’s power to protect the people from unconstitutional laws, but risks greater executive lawmaking and oscillations in policy, without the same deliberative benefits or political responsiveness of other extra-legislative vetoes. Accordingly, the article proposes institutional mechanisms to preserve Congress’s voice in inter-branch policy deliberation, while leveraging the extra-legislative veto’s power to protect the people from “laws gone bad.”

Keywords: executive, defense, enforcement, law, veto, separation of powers

Suggested Citation

Sant'Ambrogio, Michael, The Extra-Legislative Veto (October 10, 2013). Georgetown Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Michael Sant'Ambrogio (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

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Room 367
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
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