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US President Ronald Reagan signing a veto of a bill. President Ronald Reagan signing veto of defense authorization bill.jpg
US President Ronald Reagan signing a veto of a bill.

A veto is a legal power to unilaterally stop an official action. In the most typical case, a president or monarch vetoes a bill to stop it from becoming law. In many countries, veto powers are established in the country's constitution. Veto powers are also found at other levels of government, such as in state, provincial or local government, and in international bodies.


Some vetoes can be overcome, often by a supermajority vote: in the United States, a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate can override a presidential veto. [1] Some vetoes, however, are absolute and cannot be overridden. For example, in the United Nations Security Council, the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have an absolute veto over any Security Council resolution.

In many cases, the veto power can only be used to prevent changes to the status quo. But some veto powers also include the ability to make or propose changes. For example, the Indian president can use an amendatory veto to propose amendments to vetoed bills.

The executive power to veto legislation is one of the main tools that the executive has in the legislative process, along with the proposal power. [2] It is most commonly found in presidential and semi-presidential systems. [3] In parliamentary systems, the head of state often has either a weak veto power or none at all. [4] But while some political systems do not contain a formal veto power, all political systems contain veto players, people or groups who can use social and political power to prevent policy change. [5]

The word "veto" comes from the Latin for "I forbid". The concept of a veto originated with the Roman offices of consul and tribune of the plebs. There were two consuls every year; either consul could block military or civil action by the other. The tribunes had the power to unilaterally block any action by a Roman magistrate or the decrees passed by the Roman Senate. [6]


Roman veto

Tiberius Gracchus, Roman tribune Tiberius Gracchus.jpg
Tiberius Gracchus, Roman tribune

The institution of the veto, known to the Romans as the intercessio, was adopted by the Roman Republic in the 6th century BC to enable the tribunes to protect the mandamus interests of the plebeians (common citizenry) from the encroachments of the patricians, who dominated the Senate. A tribune's veto did not prevent the senate from passing a bill but meant that it was denied the force of law. The tribunes could also use the veto to prevent a bill from being brought before the plebeian assembly. The consuls also had the power of veto, as decision-making generally required the assent of both consuls. If they disagreed, either could invoke the intercessio to block the action of the other. The veto was an essential component of the Roman conception of power being wielded not only to manage state affairs but to moderate and restrict the power of the state's high officials and institutions. [6]

A notable use of the Roman veto occurred in the Gracchan land reform, which was initially spearheaded by the tribune Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC. When Gracchus' fellow tribune Marcus Octavius vetoed the reform, the Assembly voted to remove him on the theory that a tribune must represent the interests of the plebeians. Later, senators outraged by the reform murdered Gracchus and several supporters, setting off a period of internal political violence in Rome. [7]

Liberum veto

In the constitution of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th and 18th centuries, all bills had to pass the Sejm or "Seimas" (parliament) by unanimous consent, and if any legislator invoked the liberum veto , this not only vetoed that bill but also all previous legislation passed during the session, and dissolved the legislative session itself. The concept originated in the idea of "Polish democracy" as any Pole of noble extraction was considered as good as any other, no matter how low or high his material condition might be. The more and more frequent use of this veto power paralyzed the power of the legislature and, combined with a string of weak figurehead kings, led ultimately to the partitioning and the dissolution of the Polish state in the late 18th century.

Emergence of modern vetoes

William III of England granting royal assent to the Toleration Act 1688. P588 William III. giving his royal assent to the toleration act.jpg
William III of England granting royal assent to the Toleration Act 1688.

The modern executive veto derives from the European institution of royal assent, in which the monarch's consent was required for bills to become law. This in turn had evolved from earlier royal systems in which laws were simply issued by the monarch, as was the case for example in England until the reign of Edward III in the 14th century. [8] In England itself, the power of the monarch to deny royal assent was not used after 1708, but it was used extensively in the British colonies. The heavy use of this power was mentioned in the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776. [9]

Following the French Revolution in 1789, the royal veto was hotly debated, and hundreds of proposals were put forward for different versions of the royal veto, as either absolute, suspensive, or nonexistent. [10] With the adoption of the French Constitution of 1791, King Louis XVI lost his absolute veto and acquired the power to issue a suspensive veto that could be overridden by a majority vote in two successive sessions of the Legislative Assembly, which would take four to six years. [11] With the abolition of the monarchy in 1792, the question of the French royal veto became moot. [11]

The presidential veto was conceived in by republicans in the 18th and 19th centuries as a counter-majoritarian tool, limiting the power of a legislative majority. [12] Some republican thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson, however, argued for eliminating the veto power entirely as a relic of monarchy. [13] To avoid giving the president too much power, most early presidential vetoes, such as the veto power in the United States, were qualified vetoes that the legislature could override. [13] But this was not always the case: the Chilean constitution of 1833, for example, gave that country's president an absolute veto. [13]


Most modern vetoes are intended as a check on the power of the government, or a branch of government, most commonly the legislative branch. Thus, in governments with a separation of powers, vetoes may be classified by the branch of government that enacts them: an executive veto, legislative veto, or judicial veto.

Other types of veto power, however, have safeguarded other interests. The denial of royal assent by governors in the British colonies, which continued well after the practice had ended in Britain itself, served as a check by one level of government against another. [8] Vetoes may also be used to safeguard the interests of particular groups within a country. The veto power of the ancient Roman tribunes protected the interests of one social class (the plebeians) against another (the patricians). [14] In the transition from apartheid, a "white veto" to protect the interests of white South Africans was proposed but not adopted. [15] More recently, Indigenous vetoes over industrial projects on Indigenous land have been proposed following the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires the "free, prior and informed consent" of Indigenous communities to development or resource extraction projects on their land. However, many governments have been reluctant to allow such a veto. [16]

Vetoes may be classified by whether the vetoed body can override them, and if so, how. An absolute veto cannot be overridden at all. A qualified veto can be overridden by a supermajority, such as two-thirds or three-fifths. A suspensory veto, also called a suspensive veto, can be overridden by a simple majority, and thus serves only to delay the law from coming into force. [17]

Types of executive vetoes

US President Bill Clinton signing cancellation letters related to his line-Item vetoes for the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. President William J. Clinton Signing Line Item Veto Letters - NARA - 77861673.jpg
US President Bill Clinton signing cancellation letters related to his line-Item vetoes for the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

A package veto, also called a "block veto" or "full veto", vetoes a legislative act as a whole. A partial veto, also called a line item veto, allows the executive to object only to some specific part of the law while allowing the rest to stand. An executive with a partial veto has a stronger negotiating position than an executive with only a package veto power. [3] An amendatory veto or amendatory observation returns legislation to the legislature with proposed amendments, which the legislature may either adopt or override. The effect of legislative inaction may vary: in some systems, if the legislature does nothing, the vetoed bill fails, while in others, the vetoed bill becomes law. Because the amendatory veto gives the executive a stronger role in the legislative process, it is often seen as a marker of a particularly strong veto power.

Some veto powers are limited to budgetary matters (as with line-item vetoes in some US states, or the financial veto in New Zealand). [18] Other veto powers (such as in Finland) apply only to non-budgetary matters; some (such as in South Africa) apply only to constitutional matters. A veto power that is not limited in this way is known as a "policy veto". [3]

One type of budgetary veto, the reduction veto, which is found in several US states, gives the executive the authority to reduce budgetary appropriations that the legislature has made. [18] When an executive is given multiple different veto powers, the procedures for overriding them may differ. For example, in the US state of Illinois, if the legislature takes no action on a reduction veto, the reduction simply becomes law, while if the legislature takes no action on an amendatory veto, the bill dies. [19]

A pocket veto is a veto that takes effect simply by the executive or head of state taking no action. In the United States, the pocket veto can only be exercised near the end of a legislative session; if the deadline for presidential action passes during the legislative session, the bill will simply become law. [20] The legislature cannot override a pocket veto. [2]

Some veto powers are limited in their subject matter. A constitutional veto only allows the executive to veto bills that are unconstitutional; in contrast, a "policy veto" can be used wherever the executive disagrees with the bill on policy grounds. [3] Presidents with constitutional vetoes include those of Benin and South Africa.

Legislative veto

A legislative veto is a veto power exercised by a legislative body. It may be a veto exercised by the legislature against an action of the executive branch, as in the case of the legislative veto in the United States, which is found in 28 US states. [21] It may also be a veto power exercised by one chamber of a bicameral legislature against another, such as was formerly held by members of the Senate of Fiji appointed by the Great Council of Chiefs. [22]

Veto over candidates

In certain political systems, a particular body is able to exercise a veto over candidates for an elected office. This type of veto may also be referred to by the broader term "vetting".

Historically, certain European Catholic monarchs were able to veto candidates for the papacy, a power known as the jus exclusivae. This power was used for the last time in 1903 by Franz Joseph I of Austria. [23]

In Iran, the Guardian Council has the power to approve or disapprove candidates, in addition to its veto power over legislation.

In China, following a pro-democracy landslide in the 2019 Hong Kong local elections, in 2021 the National People's Congress approved a law that gave the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, appointed by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the power to veto candidates for the Hong Kong Legislative Council. [24]

Balance of powers

In presidential and semi-presidential systems, the veto is a legislative power of the presidency, because it involves the president in the process of making law. In contrast to proactive powers such as the ability to introduce legislation, the veto is a reactive power, because the president cannot veto a bill until the legislature has passed it. [25]

Executive veto powers are often ranked as comparatively "strong" or "weak". A veto power may be considered stronger or weaker depending on its scope, the time limits for exercising it and requirements for the vetoed body to override it. In general, the greater the majority required for an override, the stronger the veto. [3]

Partial vetoes are less vulnerable to override than package vetoes, [26] and political scientists who have studied the matter have generally considered partial vetoes to give the executive greater power than package vetoes. [27] However, empirical studies of the line-item veto in US state government have not found any consistent effect on the executive's ability to advance its agenda. [28] Amendatory vetoes give greater power to the executive than deletional vetoes, because they give the executive the power to move policy closer to its own preferred state than would otherwise be possible. [29] But even a suspensory package veto that can be overridden by a simple majority can be effective in stopping or modifying legislation. For example, in Estonia in 1993, president Lennart Meri was able to successfully obtain amendments to the proposed Law on Aliens after issuing a suspensory veto of the bill and proposing amendments based on expert opinions on European law. [26]


United Nations Security Council meeting room. UN-Sicherheitsrat - UN Security Council - New York City - 2014 01 06.jpg
United Nations Security Council meeting room.

Globally, the executive veto over legislation is characteristic of presidential and semi-presidential systems, with stronger veto powers generally being associated with stronger presidential powers overall. [3] In parliamentary systems, the veto power of the head of state is typically weak or nonexistent. [4] In particular, in Westminster systems and most constitutional monarchies, the power to veto legislation by withholding royal assent is a rarely used reserve power of the monarch. In practice, the Crown follows the convention of exercising its prerogative on the advice of parliament.

International bodies


Africa Africa just countries.svg


The Americas Amerika.PNG
The Americas


Asia Map of Asia.png


Europe Europe ISO 3166-1.svg

European countries in which the executive or head of state does not have a veto power include Slovenia and Luxembourg, where the power to withhold royal assent was abolished in 2008. [90] Countries that have some form of veto power include the following:


Oceania Oceania without Asian country codes.jpg

Veto theories

In political science, the broader power of people and groups to prevent change is sometimes analyzed through the frameworks of veto points and veto players. Veto players are actors who can potentially exercise some sort of veto over a change in government policy. [5] Veto points are the institutional opportunities that give these actors the ability to veto. [5] The theory of veto points was first developed by Ellen M. Immergut in 1990, in a comparative case study of healthcare reform in different political systems. [138] Breaking with earlier scholarship, Immergut argued that "we have veto points within political systems and not veto groups within societies." [139]

Veto player analysis draws on game theory. George Tsebelis first developed it in 1995 and set it forth in detail in 2002 Veto Players: How Political Institutions Work . [140] A veto player is a political actor who has the ability to stop a change from the status quo. [141] There are institutional veto players, whose consent is required by constitution or statute; for example, in US federal legislation, the veto players are the House, Senate and presidency. [142] There are also partisan veto players, which are groups that can block policy change from inside an institutional veto player. [143] In a coalition government the partisan veto players are typically the members of the governing coalition. [143] [144]

According to Tsebelis' veto player theorem, policy change becomes harder the more veto players there are, the greater the ideological distance between them, and the greater their internal coherence. [141] For example, Italy and the United States have stable policies because they have many veto players, while Greece and the United Kingdom have unstable policies because they have few veto players. [145]

While the veto player and veto point approaches complement one another, the veto players framework has become dominant in the study of policy change. [146] Scholarship on rational choice theory has favored the veto player approach because the veto point framework does not address why political actors decide to use a veto point. [5] In addition, because veto player analysis can apply to any political system, it provides a way of comparing very different political systems, such as presidential and parliamentary systems. [5] Veto player analyses can also incorporate people and groups that have de facto power to prevent policy change, even if they do not have the legal power to do so. [147]

Some literature distinguishes cooperative veto points (within institutions) and competitive veto points (between institutions), theorizing competitive veto points contribute to obstructionism. [148] Some literature disagrees with the claim of veto player theory that multiparty governments are likely to be gridlocked. [148]

See also

Works cited

Constitutions cited

Related Research Articles

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