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Recess appointment

A recess appointment is the appointment, by the President of the United States, of a senior federal official while the U.S. Senate is in recess. The United States Constitution requires that the most senior federal officers must be confirmed by the Senate before assuming office, but while the Senate is in recess the President may act alone by making a recess appointment to fill "Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate." To remain in effect, a recess appointment must be approved by the Senate by the end of the next session of Congress, or the position becomes vacant again; in current practice this means that a recess appointment must be approved by roughly the end of the next calendar year. Recess appointments are authorized by Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which states:


  • Legitimacy of intrasession appointments 1
    • National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning 1.1
  • Examples and use 2
    • Congressional action preventing recess appointments 2.1
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5

Legitimacy of intrasession appointments

According to Henry B. Hogue, of the Congressional Research Service's Government and Finance Division:[1]

It has been argued that as the clause was originally understood, it was expected that if the Senate was in session when an office became vacant, the president would make a standard advice-and-consent appointment at that time.[2] In Federalist No. 67, Alexander Hamilton wrote:[3]

Another argument maintains that recess appointments were only to be made during intersession recesses, which during the early days of the country lasted between six and nine months, and were therefore required to prevent important offices from remaining unfilled for long periods. The current interpretation, this view holds, allows appointments to be made during recesses too brief to justify bypassing the Senate.

Historically, presidents tended to make recess appointments when the Senate was adjourned for lengthy periods. Since World War II, presidents have sometimes made recess appointments when Senate opposition appeared strong, hoping that the appointee might prove himself or herself in office and allow opposition to dissipate. Most recently, however, as partisanship on Capitol Hill has grown,[4] recess appointments have tended to solidify opposition to the appointee.[5]

National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning

Prior to National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, there was a split among the circuit courts on the validity of intrasession appointments and on what vacancies can be filled using the Recess Appointment authority. Following the 2003 intrasession appointment of William H. Pryor, Jr., to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, a small number of criminal defendants whose appeals were denied by panels including Pryor appealed on the basis that Pryor's appointment was invalid. The Eleventh Circuit, in an en banc decision in Evans v. Stephens[6][7] held that the Constitution permitted both intrasession recess appointments and recess appointments to fill vacancies that "happened" prior to, rather than during, the congressional recess.

However, NLRB v. Noel Canning, Circuit docket 12-1115 in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit appealed a decision made by National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) members appointed in what President Obama determined was an intrasession Recess was decided in a three-member panel decision on January 25, 2013, that intrasession appointments were unconstitutional because the word "the" before the word "Recess" in the Constitution was determined to mean to limit it to only the intersession Recess and it further limited the power by limiting it to only those vacancies that "happen" to occur during the intersession break and not to vacancies that existed prior to the Recess.[8] Also, on March 16, 2013, the Third Circuit joined the D.C. Circuit and held that the March 2010 appointment of Craig Becker to the NLRB was invalid because he was not appointed between sessions.[9]

On June 26, 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision that President Obama overreached his executive authority in appointing members to the NLRB while the Senate was still formally in session.[10] Justice Stephen Breyer, in the majority opinion, wrote that the Constitution allows for the Congress itself to determine its sessions and recesses, that "the Senate is in session when it says it is", and that the President does not have the right to unilaterally dictate Congressional sessions and make recess appointments thusly.[11] However, the decision allows the use of recess appointments during breaks within a session for vacancies that existed prior to the break.

Examples and use

Presidents since South Carolina judge John Rutledge as Chief Justice of the United States during a congressional recess in 1795. Because of Rutledge's political views and occasional mental illness, however, the Senate rejected his nomination, and Rutledge subsequently attempted suicide and then resigned.

New Jersey judge William J. Brennan was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 through a recess appointment. This was done in part with an eye on the presidential campaign that year; Eisenhower was running for reelection, and his advisors thought it would be politically advantageous to place a northeastern Catholic on the court. Brennan was promptly confirmed when the Senate came back into session. President Eisenhower, in a recess appointment, designated Charles W. Yost as United States Ambassador to Syria.[12] Eisenhower made two other recess appointments, Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justice Potter Stewart.

Lawrence Eagleburger Secretary of State during a recess in 1992; Eagleburger, as Deputy Secretary of State, had in effect filled that role after James Baker resigned.

According to the Barack Obama had made 32 recess appointments.[13]

Congressional action preventing recess appointments

Sometimes, especially when both houses of Congress are controlled by a different party than that of the President and since both Houses must consent to adjourn, the Senate or House leadership will seek to block any potential recess appointments by not allowing the Senate to adjourn for more than three days, blocking a longer adjournment that would allow recess appointments to be made.[14] For example, during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prevented any further recess appointments. Bush promised not to make any during the August recess that year, but no agreement was reached for the two-week Thanksgiving break in November 2007. As a result, Reid did not allow adjournments of more than three days from then until the end of the Bush presidency by holding pro forma sessions.[15][16] Prior to this, there had been speculation that James Holsinger would receive a recess appointment as Surgeon General of the United States.[17]

Over what would have traditionally been the 2011–12 winter recess of the 112th Congress, the House of Representatives did not assent to recess, specifically to block Richard Cordray's appointment as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.[18] As therefore required by the Constitution, both the House and Senate held pro forma sessions.[19] Regardless, on January 4, 2012, President Obama claimed authority to appoint Richard Cordray and others under the Recess Appointments Clause. White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler asserted that the appointments were valid, because the pro forma sessions were designed to, "through form, render a constitutional power of the executive obsolete", and that the Senate was for all intents and purposes recessed.[20] Republicans in the Senate disputed the appointments, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stating that Obama had "arrogantly circumvented the American people" with the appointments. It was expected that there would be a legal challenge to the appointments.[21] The first such challenge was announced in April 2012, disputing a National Labor Relations Board ruling made following the Obama appointments.[22][23]

On January 6, 2012, the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion regarding recess appointments and pro forma sessions, claiming that "[t]he convening of periodic pro forma sessions in which no business is to be conducted does not have the legal effect of interrupting an intrasession recess otherwise long enough to qualify as a "Recess of the Senate" under the Recess Appointments Clause. In this context, the President therefore has discretion to conclude that the Senate is unavailable to perform its advise-and-consent function and to exercise his power to make recess appointments".[24][25] However, this was widely disputed.[26][27] On January 25, 2013, in the first circuit case to rule on the validity of the January 4, 2012, appointments, Chief Judge David Sentelle, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, wrote "an interpretation of “the Recess” that permits the President to decide when the Senate is in recess would demolish the checks and balances inherent in the advice-and-consent requirement, giving the President free rein to appoint his desired nominees at any time he pleases, whether that time be a weekend, lunch, or even when the Senate is in session and he is merely displeased with its inaction. This cannot be the law."[28] On June 26, 2014, the United States Supreme Court validated this practice in a 9–0 ruling of using pro forma sessions to block the president from using the recess appointment authority.

Justice Breyer also wrote in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the President could force a recess if he had enough congressional support: "The Constitution also gives the President (if he has enough allies in Congress) a way to force a recess. Art. II, §3 ('[I]n Case of Disagreement between [the Houses], with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, [the President] may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper'). Moreover, the President and Senators engage with each other in many different ways [*28] and have a variety of methods of encouraging each other to accept their points of view. Regardless, the Recess Appointments Clause is not designed to overcome serious institutional friction. It simply provides a subsidiary method for appointing officials when the Senate is away during a recess."[29]

See also


  1. ^ Recess Appointments Frequently Asked Questions", Congressional Research Service
  2. ^ Volume 52, Number 5(June 2005), pp. 1487–1578UCLA Law ReviewThe Original Meaning of the Recess Appointments Clause"
  3. ^
  4. ^ JAMES MOODY; PETER J. MUCHA. "Portrait of Political Party Polarization". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  5. ^ David R. Stras; Ryan W. Scott (2007). "NAVIGATING THE NEW POLITICS OF JUDICIAL" (PDF). Northwestern University Law Review. Princeton University Press. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 
  6. ^ Evans v. Stephens, 387 F.3d 1220 (11th Cir. 2004).
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Senate 9, President 0." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 26 June 14. Web. 28 June 2014.
  11. ^ "Senate 9, President 0." The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 26 June 14. Web. 28 June 2014.
  12. ^ Marine Embassy Security Guard historical archives
  13. ^ Henry B. Hogue; Richard S. Beth. "Recess Appointments: Frequently Asked Questions" (pdf). Congressional Research Service. Retrieved January 4, 2012. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Days in Session Calendars U.S. Senate – 110th Congress 2nd Session". December 31, 2008. Retrieved May 30, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Senate Calendar – December". Retrieved May 30, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Reid To Bush: No Recess Appointments Wanted". November 16, 2007. Retrieved May 30, 2011. 
  18. ^ GOP Furious As Obama Recess Appoints Cordray
  19. ^ Mcconnell, Michael (January 10, 2012). "Democrats and Executive Overreach". The Wall Street Journal. 
  20. ^ Obama Tempts Fight Over Recess Appointments
  21. ^ Analysis: Obama consumer chief decision under a legal cloud
  22. ^ O'Keefe, Ed (April 18, 2012). "Senate GOP joining legal action against Obama recess appointments". The Washington Post. 
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ 
  28. ^
  29. ^

Further reading

  • 82 (2007).Nw. U. L. Rev. Colloquy, 101 Senate Termination of Presidential Recess AppointmentsTillman,
  • 88 (2007).Nw. U. L. Rev. Colloquy, 101 Keeping Recess Appointments in Their PlaceKalt, Response,
  • 94 (2007).Nw. U. L. Rev. Colloquy, 101 Terminating Presidential Recess Appointments: A Reply to Professor Brian C. KaltTillman,
  • 108 (2007).Nw. U. L. Rev. Colloquy, 101 Keeping Adjournments in Their PlaceKalt,
  • O'Keefe, Ed (Jan 5, 2012), "What is a recess appointment?",  
  • Recess Appointments Made by President George W. Bush, January 20, 2001- October 31, 2008 Congressional Research Service
  • Recess Appointments Made by President Barack Obama Congressional Research Service
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