WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to referee a major confrontation between President Reagan and Congress over the use of the so-called pocket veto.
The court said it will review a ruling that Reagan illegally used a pocket veto in 1983 to kill a bill linking military aid to El Salvador with human rights progress by that country.
The court's action sets the stage for a decision, probably sometime in 1987, on far-reaching questions of presidential and congressional powers.
On Aug. 29, 1984, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here ruled, by a 2-1 vote and in a one-page opinion, that Reagan's use of the pocket veto was illegal.
Bill Expired in Month
But the bill conditioning aid to El Salvador on human rights progress expired a month later anyway, and it was not until April 12, 1985, that the appeals court issued a 46-page opinion in the case.
In the appeal acted on today, Justice Department lawyers said the appeals court should have thrown out its own opinion last year because the case had become moot.
The challenge to Reagan's use of the pocket veto was made by 33 House Democrats, and leaders of both parties in Congress joined in asking the Supreme Court to allow the appeals court ruling to remain intact.
The appeals court barred the President from using the pocket veto to kill a bill while Congress is in recess. The ruling allowed the President to pocket veto a measure only at the conclusion of a two-year congressional term when all House seats and a third of the Senate seats are up for election.
Congress Had Recessed
In the case of the El Salvador measure, Congress had recessed for 1983 when Reagan sought to nullify the measure that Nov. 30.
The Constitution specifies that a bill passed by each house of Congress automatically becomes law unless the President vetoes it by returning it unsigned to Congress within 10 days, "unless the Congress by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall not be a law."
But in recent years both houses have appointed representatives to accept messages from the President during such adjournments. Congressional leaders say that change means the President no longer can contend he has been prevented from returning a bill to Congress when it is not in session.
Other Court Actions
In other action, the court:
--Let stand the 1984 conviction of former Rep. George Hansen (R-Ida.) for falsifying financial reports filed with the House. The court, without comment, refused to hear arguments that Congress never intended people who violate the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 to be criminally punished.
Federal prosecutors now may move to force Hansen, 55, to begin serving his sentence of five to 15 months in prison and to pay a $40,000 fine.
--Agreed to decide whether national banks may establish discount securities brokerage outlets wherever they want.
The court said it will hear appeals by the Reagan Administration and banks pressing for unfettered expansion into the business of selling stocks and bonds.