Burke v. Barnes

479 U. S. 361

January 14, 1987

Both houses of Congress passed a bill that required President Reagan to determine whether El Salvador adequately protected human rights. If El Salvador did not, the country would lose funding for the year. The bill explicitly stated that, if passed, its provisions would only last through September of 1984. Reagan pocket vetoed the bill, but Congress challenged his veto as deficient (the Court does not explain what this alleged deficiency was).

Because the bill’s effect would have ended in 1984 had it become law, the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 that the case was now moot (Scalia did not participate). Rehnquist, writing for the majority, rejected claims that the case was still live due to the archivist’s continuing refusal to publish the bill in Statutes at Large, and due to the possibility that the Comptroller General might one day audit federal aid to El Salvador. He found these interests too attenuated and speculative to give any weight.

Stevens dissented, and he was joined by White. He found that the interests Rehnquist had rejected were sufficient to classify the case as live. And I completely agree. I’m kind of a liberal on issues like mootness, standing, ripeness, and political questions. I do believe the American people have a right to know if a bill became a law, even if that law would no longer be effective. To me, the substantive issues at stake are usually more important than the ticky-tacky concerns over justiciability.

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