Recess Appointments by the President: What Our Constitution Really Says.
By: Publius Huldah
Much misinformation about The Constitution is put out by those who seek to circumvent its clear provisions. In Peter Schroeder’s recent article in The Hill, he reports that David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, makes two arguments which Arkush claims permit the President to make a “recess” appointment of someone (Richard Cordray) whose nomination has already been blocked by the Senate.
Arkush reportedly claims that Art. 2, Sec.3, U.S. Constitution, allows the President to force the House and Senate to adjourn; and then, pursuant to Art. II, Sec. 2, last clause, he would be permitted to make a “recess” appointment of his rejected nominee. 1
Arkush’s next claim is this: The 20th Amendment states that Congress shall assemble at least once a year, with each session beginning on Jan. 3. Arkush says that in order to be able to start a session on Jan 3; Congress would have to have stopped a previous session – and between the stopping of the old and the starting of the new, the President may slip in there and make a “recess” appointment of his rejected nominee!
So! Let us see how easy it is to look things up in Our Constitution. You do not have to settle for the rubbish spewed by others and uncritically reported by journalists. You can find out for yourself what Our Constitution really says.
Look It Up In Our Constitution!
FIRST: What does Our Constitution say about presidential “appointments”? Article II, Sec. 2, cl. 2, says:
“…he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law; but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone…” [emphasis added]
Do you see? The constitutional scheme is that the President nominates – the Senate confirms or rejects the President’s nomination. This is the “check” which Our Constitution imposes on the President’s nominations. The purpose is to protect us from the loons, incompetents, or toadies whom various presidents have, from time to time, nominated.
NOW let us see what Our Constitution says about recess appointments. Article II, Sec. 2, last clause, says:
“The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” [emphasis added]
Do you see? The Vacancy must have happened at a time when the Senate was already in Recess!
So! The President may not properly circumvent the Senate’s constitutionally granted power to reject his nominations by means of cheap gimmicks such as forcing the Congress to adjourn, or by waiting until Congress is in recess, to “recess appoint” someone whom the Senate has already refused to approve!
Check It Out In The Federalist Papers!
The Federalist Papers are authoritative on the genuine meaning of Our Constitution, 2 so you always want to see what they say about any clause in Our Constitution. Here is an online edition of The Federalist Papers with a searchable text. If you type in “recess”, you will get hits for The Federalist Papers which use that term.
Throughout Federalist No. 76, Alexander Hamilton explains the reasons for the constitutional provision requiring nominations by the President to be submitted to the Senate for their approval or disapproval. In the last 3 paras, Hamilton points out that the Constitution “requires” the cooperation of the Senate in appointments in order to “check” the President and “to prevent the appointment of unfit characters”; and that “the necessity of its [the Senate’s] co-operation, in the business of appointments, will be a considerable and salutary restraint upon the conduct of that magistrate [the President].”
Now, let us see what The Federalist Papers say about “recess” appointments. In Federalist No. 67 (next to last para) Hamilton is very clear that Article II, Sec. 2, last clause, means what it says:
“…The ordinary power of appointment is confined to the President and Senate JOINTLY, and can therefore only be exercised during the session of the Senate; but as it would have been improper to oblige this body to be continually in session for the appointment of officers and as vacancies might happen IN THEIR RECESS, which it might be necessary for the public service to fill without delay, the succeeding clause is evidently intended to authorize the President, SINGLY, to make temporary appointments “during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.”…” [caps are Hamilton’s]
Do you see? Article II, Sec. 2, last clause, means exactly what it says. Before this clause even kicks in, the vacancy must have happened while the Senate was in “recess”.
So! The Constitution requires the President to submit his nominations to the Senate for their approval. A President who disbands Congress so that he can circumvent the constitutional provisions which grant to the Senate the power to reject the President’s nominations, is a usurper & a tyrant who should be promptly impeached and removed from office. 3
If the Senate rejects any nomination, the President may not circumvent that rejection by unconstitutional gimmicks such as those proposed by Arkush.
If people wish to show how clever, creative, or original they are, then they should write a novel. When applying Our Constitution, we must display only Obedience.
Now you know how to look things up in Our Constitution and check it out in The Federalist Papers. Political consultants, journalists, TV pundits, talk show hosts, candidates for office, people in Congress, in the Executive Branch, and sitting on Federal Benches don’t know how to do this. So you must do it and spread the Word if we are to restore our Constitutional Republic. PH
1 Article II, Sec. 3 authorizes the President to adjourn Congress only when there is a “Disagreement” between the Houses “with Respect to the Time of Adjournment”. He is not permitted to adjourn Congress so that he may then circumvent the constitutional provisions which grant to the Senate the Power to reject the President’s nominees!
2 See the Minutes of March 4, 1825 of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson & James Madison were present) where they voted to make The Federalist Papers one of the texts books for the Law School. They said:
“…on the distinctive principles of the government of our own state, and of that of the US. the best guides are to be found in 1. the Declaration of Independance, as the fundamental act of union of these states. 2. the book known by the title of `The Federalist’, being an authority to which appeal is habitually made by all, and rarely declined or denied by any as evidence of the general opinion of those who framed, and of those who accepted the Constitution of the US. on questions as to it’s genuine meaning….” (page 83) [emphasis added]
3 On impeaching the President for usurpations of power – i.e., acting outside the few enumerated powers granted to the President by Our Constitution – see Federalist No. 66 (2nd para) & Federalist No. 77 (last para). PH