Monday, March 29, 2010

Fighting During Recess

"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."
- U.S. Constitution: Article II, Section 2, Clause 3

The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis.”
- President Barack Obama

Circumventing constitutional Senate vetting is dangerous because President Obama’s track record in vetting nominees and other high-level appointees has been very poor. . . . Many of the people President Obama is granting recess appointments will hold high level positions that will greatly influence job creation in this country.”
- Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina

Though there is little evidence as to the intentions of the Constitution's Framers in creating the recess appointment clause, it seems that it was meant to allow the President to maintain the continuity of administrative government through the temporary filling of offices during periods when the Senate was not in session and thus could not consider nominees.
This interpretation was bolstered by the fact that Congress had both relatively short sessions and long recesses between sessions until the beginning of the 20th century.

Presidents, however, have sometimes used recess appointments for political purposes--as opportunities to side-step a Congress controlled by the opposition party. Attorneys General and the courts have added to the president's recess appointment power by interpreting broadly the phrase “vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate." The recess appointment power is now generally accepted to include the right to make recess appointments to any position that became vacant prior to the recess and to positions that became vacant during the recess.

President Clinton made 139 recess appointments, and President George W. Bush made 171 in their two terms in the White House. President Obama has made 15 recess appointments in his year-and-a-half in office.

Current Events & the Constitution

Ask your students to deliberate the positives and negatives of recess appointments after first reading Article II, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution. Then ask them to look at the history of recess appointments at the Senate's web site and what each political party has to say about President Obama's recess appointments.