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A veto, Latin for "I forbid", is the power of an officer of the state to unilaterally stop a piece of legislation.

In practice, the veto can be absolute (as in the U.N. Security Council, whose permanent members (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) can block any resolution, or limited, as in the legislative process of the United States, where a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate may override a Presidential veto of legislation).[1]

A veto gives power, possibly unlimited, to stop changes, but not to adopt them. The influence that the veto conveys to its holder is therefore directly proportional to the holder's conservatism, broadly defined. The more the holder of a veto supports the status quo, the more useful the veto.[2]

The concept of a veto body originated with the Roman consuls and tribunes. Either of the two consuls holding office in a given year could block a military or civil decision by the other; any tribune had the power to unilaterally block legislation passed by the Roman Senate.[3]


Roman veto

The institution of the veto, known as the intercessio, was adopted by the Roman Republic in the 6th century BC as a way of enabling the tribunes to protect the interests of the plebs (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 decisionmaking generally required the assent of both consuls. If one disagreed, either could invoke the intercessio to block the action of the other. The veto was an essential component of the Roman concepton of power being wielded not only to manage state affairs but to moderate and restrict the power of the state's high officials and institution.[3]

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