Gov. Bobby Jindal has abused the veto power our Constitution confers upon him, particularly with his veto of Senate Bill 162. Veto power resides with state governors and the president largely to protect against the Legislature’s passage of laws that would strip the executive of power. The Federalist Papers indicate that the purpose of the veto is to allow the executive to protect the existence of the three branches of government.
Last week, Gov. Jindal vetoed the gestational surrogacy bill supported by nearly 90 percent of Louisiana’s elected legislators. He did so not on a matter necessary to protect the existence of the executive branch or on a matter of which he may have superior knowledge to legislators (perhaps the budget), but on a social issue.
Use of the veto power in such circumstances is wholly inappropriate. Not much speculation about the motives for the veto is necessary. Gov. Jindal’s veto letter, shockingly, openly thanks the well-funded religious groups for whom he acted.
What many people may not be aware of, however, is that New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, vetoed a similar bill in 2012. Given the likelihood that these two governors will dance on the national stage in the next presidential cycle, it stands to reason that Jindal could not allow himself to be out-conservatived by Christie.
Is it silly to think that the Christie veto was Jindal’s significant motivation? Perhaps not. Jindal’s veto letter borrows the wording of that issued by Christie last year, although some of it is nonsensical here.
Christie said that “profound change in the traditional beginnings of a family” would be brought by the N.J. bill. Jindal used almost the same language. In vetoing the N.J. bill, Christie said: “I am not satisfied that [opponents’] questions have been sufficiently studied by the legislature at this time.” Jindal’s veto letter largely copies Christie’s language on that point, too.
The only problem is that SB162 was studied at length, with a panel of diverse and representative contributors, by the Louisiana State Law Institute (an arm of the Legislature) for three years. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how much more the bill could have been studied. One can only surmise why Jindal’s veto letter borrows the Christie language, even in a context in which it makes little sense.
With Jindal’s veto, the power of one elected official overrides the power of the 114 elected legislators who voted in favor of SB162. And, pragmatically, Jindal’s veto power is absolute. A two-thirds vote of the Legislature could override it, but because convening a veto override session would cost our state tens of thousands of dollars, one has never been called in modern Louisiana history. We should all be troubled by such an abuse of our Constitution.
Andrea B. Carroll
professor of law, LSU