Much Ado Over ... Notarization?

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WASHINGTON — In some circles, President Obama’s veto of an obscure bill this month has proved more controversial than the legislation itself. The White House called it a “pocket veto.” Some constitutional experts beg to differ....

The distinction between a pocket veto and a regular veto goes to the fundamental Constitutional balance of powers zealously guarded by both branches. A pocket veto kills legislation outright, giving the president the final say; a regular veto allows Congress the last word if two-thirds of the House and Senate vote to override the veto and make the bill law.

Presidents, understandably, appreciate the pocket veto’s finality. But the framers of the Constitution rejected such absolute presidential power. Unsigned bills, they specified, become law unless returned to Congress for reconsideration within 10 days, not counting Sundays — with one exception. So that Congress would not send controversial bills to the White House and then adjourn to dodge a veto, the framers provided that if Congress adjourned, the president could veto a bill simply by not signing it within 10 days.

Donald A. Ritchie, the Senate historian, said the pocket veto, first used in 1812, got its name in the time of Abraham Lincoln; as he signed bills at the end of Congress’s two-year session in 1864, he supposedly stuffed those he opposed into his pocket, unsigned....

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