The Pocket Veto
Antonio: If but one of his pockets could speak, would it not say he lies? Sebastian: Ay, or very falsely pocket up his report.
William Shakespeare The Tempest, Act II, Scene 1
On November 30, 1983, President Reagan ignited a significant constitutional controversy when he pocket vetoed a bill that linked American aid to the Central American nation of El Salvador with improvement of its record on human rights. The controversy had less to do with continued American support of El Salvador than with the fact that Reagan used the pocket veto between two sessions of the Ninety-eighth Congress.
There is no little irony in the fact that, after the exercise of over a thousand pocket vetoes during a period of over one hundred and eighty years, ambiguity has persisted as to when and under wht circumstances the pocket veto may be properly applied. We will return to the Reagan case later; for the moment, the pocket veto controversy warrants elaboration.
It is important to understand first that the pocket veto is "in an entirely different category from the ordinary veto" ( Zinn, 1951: 29). The relevant sentence in the Constitution (article I, section 7) is deceptively simple: "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