Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Recess appointments: Is the Pryor appointment constitutional?

Ted Kennedy has written to the sitting judges on the 11th Circuit and suggested they might consider this question sua sponte, before Judge Pryor sits on a panel that decides a case that is then challenged on the ground that Pryor's appointment was an unlawful exercise of the President's recess appointment power under Article II, section 2, para. 3. Here's some reading you can do on the subject:
  • Sen. Kennedy's letter to the court, with attached staff research memo.
  • The Library of Congress' Congressional Research Service (CRS) memo on all known intrasession recess appointments to Article III courts. It's happened 13 times before, but never during an intrasession recess that was nearly this short (10 days).
  • Lou Fisher's CRS memo from 2001 on recess appointments to Article III courts.
  • DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel has relatively few of its opinions on-line, but one of them -- an opinion written in 1992 -- is on this topic.
  • a 1948 opinion of the Comptroller General -- 28 Comp. Gen. 30 (requires WestLaw password) -- covers some of the same ground.
  • Another OLC opinion -- this one from 1979 -- on intrasession appointments. This one has some additional useful citations:
    The question whether an intrasession recess of the Senate constitutes a recess within the meaning of Article II, Section 2, Clause 3, of the Constitution has a checkered background. Attorney General Knox ruled in 1901 that an adjournment of the Senate during the Christmas holidays, lasting from December 19, 1901, to January 6, 1902, was not a recess during which the President could make recess appointments. 23 Op. Att'y. Gen. 599 (1901). That interpretation was overruled in 1921 by Attorney General Daugherty, who held that the President had the power to make appointments during a recess of the Senate lasting from August 24 to September 21, 1921. 33 Op. Att'y. Gen. 20 (1921). The opinion concluded that there was no valid distinction between a recess and an adjournment . . . . The Attorney General, however, closed with the warning that the term 'recess' had to be given a practical construction. Hence, he suggested that no one 'would for a moment contend that the Senate is not in session' in the event of an adjournment lasting only 2 days, and he did not believe that an adjournment for 5 or even 10 days constituted the recess intended by the Constitution. He admitted that by 'the very nature of things the line of demarcation cannot be accurately drawn.' He believed, nevertheless, that:
    the President is necessarily vested with a large, although not unlimited, discretion to determine when there is a real and genuine recess making it impossible for him to receive the advice and consent of the Senate. Every presumption is to be indulged in favor the validity of whatever action he may take. But there is a point, necessarily hard of definition, where palpable abuse of discretion might subject his appointment to review.
    This opinion was cited and quoted with approval by the Comptroller General in 28 Comp. Gen. 30, 34 (1948), and reaffirmed by Acting Attorney General Walsh in 1960 in connection with an intrasession summer recess lasting from July 3, 1960, to August 15, 1960. 41 Op. Att'y Gen. 463 (1960). Presidents frequently have made recess appointments during intrasession recesses lasting for about a month.
  • There does not appeal to be a hard and fast rule that provides concrete guidance in all this. The older authorities seem to agree that a weekend adjournment of a couple of days is not a "recess" for purposes of II-2-3, and some of the functional factors that might decide the question are far from definitive:
    Is the adjournment of such duration that the members of the Senate owe no duty of attendance? Is its chamber empty? Is the Senate absent so that it can not receive communications from the President or participate as a body in making appointments?
    In this connection I think the President is necessarily vested with a large, although not unlimited, discretion to determine when there is a real and genuine recess making it impossible for him to receive the advice and consent of the Senate. Every presumption is to be indulged in favor of the validity of whatever action he may take. But there is a point, necessarily hard of definition, where palpable abuse of discretion might subject his appointment to review.
    This issue isn't going away of its own accord . . . .
    posted by tommayo, 10:57 PM

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