Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha

The Case: U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning the use of legislative vetoes on immigration rulings

Date: Decided on June 23, 1983

Significance: Based on the constitutional principles of separation of powers and bicameralism, the Chadha decision prohibited legislation authorizing one house of Congress fromoverriding a decision made by the executive branch.

One section of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 authorized the attorney general to allow particular deportable aliens to remain in the United States, but the act also provided the option of a “legislative veto,” which authorized a single chamber of Congress to invalidate the decision of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). From 1932 until 1983, Congress included legislative vetoes in almost three hundred laws. The use of the procedure was considered an effective way of retaining legislative control over the president and regulations of the executive agencies.

Born in Kenya to Indian parents and holding a British passport, Jagdish Rai Chadha had studied in the United States with a student visa. When his visa expired, neither Great Britain nor Kenya would accept him, so he applied for permanent residence in the United States. Based on Chadha’s character and “extreme hardship,” the INS approved his application, but the House of Representatives voted to veto the decision.

By a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution did not authorize the use of the legislative veto. With this ruling, the Court struck down more congressional enactments than it had previously in its entire history. Speaking for the majority, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger wrote that “explicit and unambiguous provisions of the Constitution prescribe and define the respective functions of the Congress and of the Executive.” Any valid congressional mandate, he explained, must include passage by both houses of Congress, followed by presentment to the president, whose veto could be overridden only by a two-thirds vote in both houses. In a vigorous dissent, Justice Byron R. White argued that if Congress could delegate powers to the executive branch, it should be able to place limitations on these powers.

Thomas Tandy Lewis

Further Reading

  • Craig, Barbara H. Chadha: The Story of an Epic Constitutional Struggle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. 
  • Maltz, Earl. Chief Justiceship of Warren Burger, 1969-1986. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. 

See also: Citizenship; Congress, U.S.; Constitution, U.S.; Due process protections; Immigration law; Supreme Court, U.S.

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