A veto is a concept in the constitution of many governments and organizations. Essentially, it allows a member of a government or group to strike down a proposed measure. It is most often used in the context of legislation, but the power can also be found on corporate boards and even within the United Nations. In many cases, the power of the veto is an example of a system of checks and balances that ensures that powers are shared among members of government.
In Latin, the word means “I forbid,” and the concept dates back to Roman times. The power ensures that no branch of a government becomes too strong, because another branch can overrule its decisions. Usually, the terms of this power are clearly laid out in a governing document, to ensure that the power is not abused.
One of the most well known examples can be found in the United States. Proposed legislation starts in the Congress, and if a bill is approved by both the House and Senate, it is sent to the president for approval. The president has 10 days in which to review the bill. If he or she does nothing, the bill passes automatically into law. The president can also sign a bill, indicating approval, as is done with important legislation. In other instances, he or she may write “veto” on the bill, indicating that it is not approved, and the bill is sent back to Congress.
If the Congress disagrees with the veto, a two-thirds vote can override it. This ensures that a president cannot arbitrarily kill legislation. If the veto is not overturned, the bill is rewritten and submitted again. Usually, a president indicates his or her reasons for not approving the bill when returning it to the Congress, so that it can be rewritten effectively. A related concept, the “pocket veto,” occurs when Congress adjourns before the 10 day period is elapsed. If the president does nothing, the bill fails to become law.
Members of the United Nations security council also have veto power, ensuring that the balance of power is better shared between member nations. Many other governments around the world have adopted the concept, as have some companies. In all of these cases, a veto may simply delay the inevitable, but it does spark discussion and negotiation, which may make a difficult rule more agreeable to all parties.