Harbor v. Deukmejian

Decision Date13 October 1987
Docket NumberS.F. 24837
Citation742 P.2d 1290,240 Cal.Rptr. 569,43 Cal.3d 1078
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 742 P.2d 1290 Joyce HARBOR et al., Petitioners, v. George DEUKMEJIAN, as Governor, etc., et al., Respondents.

Sarah E. Kurtz, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, Redwood City, for petitioners.

Robert E. Murphy, Deputy Atty. Gen., San Francisco, for respondents.

MOSK, Justice.

In this case, we consider two issues of constitutional significance. The first relates to the limitation imposed by article IV, section 10 of the California Constitution on the Governor's power to veto legislation, 1 and the second to the limitations placed on the Legislature by California Constitution article IV, section 9, which provides that a "statute shall embrace but one subject, which shall be expressed in its title." 2

On June 15, 1984, the Legislature enacted a budget for the 1984-1985 fiscal year (Budget Act). (Stats.1984, ch. 258, p. 874 et seq.) One item of the budget (5180-101-001(a), sched. 10.04.005) was an appropriation for aid to families with dependent children (AFDC) for over $1.5 billion.

Ten days later, the Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 1379 (Stats.1984, ch. 268, p. 1302 et seq.; hereinafter Bill 1379). Bill 1379, according to its title, related to "fiscal affairs, making an appropriation therefor." It was not to become operative unless the Budget Act was also passed (id., § 70, p. 1407) and it was declared to be an urgency measure because it would provide "necessary statutory adjustments to implement" the Budget Act (id., § 71, p. 1407).

Bill 1379 contains 71 sections enacting, amending, and repealing numerous provisions in numerous codes. Among these is section 45.5 of Bill 1379 (hereafter section 45.5), which amends section 11056 of the Welfare and Institutions Code to allow AFDC benefits to be paid under certain circumstances from the time application for such benefits is made rather than from the date the application is processed by the State Department of Social Services (department), as was the case before the amendment. The director of the department is required by the section to adopt regulations to implement its provisions within 30 days after enactment of Bill 1379. (Stats.1984, ch. 268, § 45.5, p. 1383.)

In approving the budget, the Governor reduced the item containing the AFDC allotment by $9,776,000. (Stats.1984, ch. 258, item 5180-101-001, sched. 10.04.005, p. 847.) In his message relating to the reduction, the Governor stated that this sum was an "augmentation" to the item for AFDC "that would have reversed current State policy and regulations regarding the effective date of the first ... [AFDC] aid payment." (Id.) 3

Two days later, he approved Bill 1379, but purported to veto section 45.5. (Stats. 1984, ch. 268, p. 1304.) His explanation for the veto was as follows: "I have made a number of reductions in appropriations and sections contained in the Budget Act. In order to fully implement my actions, I must also make conforming changes in this bill.... I have reduced ... [the AFDC appropriation in the Budget Act] by $9,776,000 ... to maintain current policies regarding the effective date of aid.... The elimination of this section conforms to my actions on the Budget." (Ibid.)

The director of the department refused to adopt regulations to implement section 45.5, as required therein, on the ground that the Governor's veto of the section was valid. Thereafter, three individuals who had applied for AFDC grants toward the end of August or the beginning of September 1984, and who claimed they had lost benefits due to the department's failure to implement section 45.5, and a coalition of welfare rights organizations, filed a petition for a writ of mandate. They sought to compel the director to adopt regulations to implement section 45.5 and to recompute the amount of benefits due all AFDC recipients whose applications were pending on July 1, 1984, and thereafter in accordance with the section. 4

The petition asserted that the Governor's veto was ineffective because his veto power did not extend to disapproving parts of bills which were not appropriation measures, and that section 45.5 was not such a measure. Petitioners joined in the action the Governor, the director of the department, and the Department of Finance and its director. The petition was initially filed in the Court of Appeal, which denied it without opinion. We granted a hearing from the denial and retransferred the matter to that court with directions to issue an alternative writ. The court's opinion following issuance of the writ supported the position of respondents. The Court of Appeal denied a peremptory writ and we granted review.

Validity of the Governor's Veto

The California Constitution declares that the legislative power of the state is vested in the Legislature (art. IV, § 1) and the executive power in the Governor (art. VI, § 1). Unless permitted by the Constitution, the Governor may not exercise legislative powers. (Art. III, § 3.) He may veto a bill "by returning it with any objections to the house of origin," and it will become law only if "each house then passes the bill by rollcall vote ... two thirds of the membership concurring...." If the Governor fails to act within a certain period of time, the measure becomes law without his signature. (Art. IV, § 10, subd. (a).) The Governor's veto power is more extensive with regard to appropriations. He may "reduce or eliminate one or more items of appropriation while approving other portions of a bill." Such items may be passed over his veto in the same manner as vetoed bills. (Art. IV, § 10, subd. (b).)

Petitioners assert that, in vetoing legislation, the Governor acts in a legislative capacity, and that in order to preserve the system of checks and balances upon which our government is founded, he may exercise legislative power only in the manner expressly authorized by the Constitution. Since that document only authorizes the Governor to veto a "bill" or to reduce or eliminate "items of appropriation" the Governor may not veto part of a bill which is not an "item of appropriation." Section 45.5 is a substantive measure and cannot be so characterized, and it is only one provision of a bill rather than a "bill." Therefore, the Governor's attempted veto of that provision is invalid.

Respondents also rely on the separation of powers doctrine as the basis for their assertion that the Governor's veto of section 45.5 should be upheld. The purpose of the veto power is to circumscribe the power of the legislative branch, and, they assert, the Governor's veto authority must be liberally construed in order to preserve the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government. To this end, the breadth of that power must relate to the nature of legislation which has been presented to the Governor for approval. Here, claim respondents, the Legislature attempted to circumvent the Governor's power to disapprove legislation by separating in different bills the amount necessary to fund the program mandated by section 45.5 (the $9,776,000 allegedly included in the budget as part of the lump sum AFDC appropriation and the federal funds to implement the program) from the purpose of the appropriation, as set forth in section 45.5. By reducing the item in the budget for AFDC in the amount required to support the section 45.5 program and vetoing the section, the Governor was properly exercising the power granted to him in article IV, section 10, subdivision (b), to reduce items of appropriation.

For the reasons stated below, we shall conclude that petitioners' position must prevail on this issue.

The historical development of the veto power is chronicled in an article by Charles J. Zinn, the former Law Revision Counsel of the Committee of the Judiciary of the House of Representatives. (Zinn, The Veto Power of the President (1951) 12 F.R.D. 207; hereinafter Zinn.) According to Zinn, the veto originated in Rome, where the tribune of plebeians had the power to disapprove measures recommended by the senate, which represented the patrician class. The word "veto" means "I forbid" in Latin. Then, as now, the effect of the veto was negative, frustrating an act without substituting anything in its place.

In England, the power resided in the King, who could withhold approval of acts of Parliament absolutely with the message, "Le roi s'avisera," meaning "The King will think it over." This was a more discreet and elegant expression with the same effect. Because in England the veto was absolute and its exercise incompatible with the rise in the power of Parliament, it has not been exercised by the King since 1707 to disapprove domestic legislation. So powerful is this unofficial restraint that it has been said if the King were to receive a bill from Parliament calling for his own execution, he would have to approve it.

In the United States, the veto has evolved as an integral part of the system of checks and balances. 5 Woodrow Wilson viewed the power as the most formidable prerogative of the presidency. One historian has commented that, while the strength of Congress consists of its authority to enact legislation, the President's strength consists of his right to veto it.

This power is, however, circumscribed by an important limitation. The President may approve or reject a bill in its entirety, but he may not select portions of a bill for his disapproval. George Washington recognized this principle when he wrote in 1793 that " '[f]rom the nature of the Constitution I must approve all parts of a Bill, or reject it in toto.' " (Zinn at p. 230.)

The limitation is firmly rooted in our constitutional system. If the rule were otherwise, the sensitive balance between the powers granted the legislative and executive branches of government in the Constitution would be placed in jeopardy....

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