He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.
Article 1, Section 5, Clause 3
Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.
Documenting public processes have been part of governing since the rise of early civilizations. From the Sumerians in 2500 BC, to ancient Egypt and Babylon, governments have kept journals of their actions and public meetings.
The Founding Fathers knew the importance of maintaining a Journal of Proceedings from the English House of Commons. James Wilson, a member of the Committee on Detail which compiled the provisions of the draft Constitution, was a follower of the great British parliamentary scholar Sir William Blackstone. He quoted Blackstone’s Oxford 1756 lectures, which underscored the importance of a public record for holding officials accountable, “In the House of Commons, the conduct of every member is subject to the future censure of his constituents, and therefore should be openly submitted to their inspection.”
The Constitution’s “Journal of Proceedings” wording flows from the Articles of Confederation. In March 1781 the Continental Congress approved the following provision: “…and shall publish the Journal of their proceedings monthly, except such parts thereof relating to treaties, alliances or military operations, as in their judgment require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the delegates of each state on any question shall be entered on the Journal, when it is desired by any delegate; and the delegates of a state, or any of them, at his or their request shall be furnished with a transcript of the said Journal, except such parts as are above excepted, to lay before the legislatures of the several states.”
But what is the Journal? Every day the Congress approves the “Journal” of the previous session. This is the official outline of actions taken during the previous meeting of each Chamber, like a set of minutes. It is codified in Section 49 of Thomas Jefferson’s 1812 Parliamentary Manual that governs Congressional operations. Members of Congress do not approve the Congressional Record. That transcript of House and Senate proceedings has a colorful history.
The transcribing of Congressional debate was begun by private publishers. House and Senate proceedings, roll calls, debates, and other records were recorded and published in The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (1789–1824), the Register of Debates in Congress (1824–1837), and the Congressional Globe (1833–1873).
During the 36th Congress [December 5, 1859 to March 3, 1861] it was decided that federal funds should be used for transcribing Congressional proceedings and that the Government Printing Office should publish the verbatim record. The Congressional Globe was contracted to provide stenographers in the House and Senate Chambers. In 1873, the Globe’s contract was not renewed, and the Congressional Record was born. The Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate now oversee documenting and transcribing the verbatim proceedings of their respective chambers.
The Congressional Record is still not an accurate verbatim transcript of the proceedings and debate for each Chamber. Members routinely insert remarks and documents after the fact. While these “revised and extended remarks” help Members explain their actions, they are considered “secondary authorities” when it comes to determining legislative intent. Secondary authorities are generally afforded less weight than the actual texts of primary authority during Judicial review.
The chronicling of Congress has come almost full circle. While the Congressional Record remains the official transcript of proceedings, CSPAN, a nonprofit private entity, provides live coverage of each Chamber. The cameras are owned and maintained by the Architect of the Capitol, while their operations and broadcasts are operated by staffs of the Chief Administrative Officer in the House and the Secretary of the Senate. CSPAN receives the signal and airs it on its various cable television channels. Live House broadcasting began on March 19, 1979 while Senate coverage commenced on June 2, 1986.
Article 1, Section 5, Clause 4
Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 made sure the two Congressional chambers had equity when it came of the operations of the Legislative Branch. Neither the House nor the Senate may adjourn for more than three days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays) without the concurrence of the other Chamber. The formal end of a Congress is when the Legislative Branch adjourns “Sine Die” (from the Latin “without day”) meaning “without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing”. The Constitution [Article 2, Section 3] also grants the President the authority to summon the Congress for a special session if circumstances require. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution also sets a formal start and end time for each Congress.
These various provisions have led to numerous unintended consequences.
One of the first instances was when the Southern states seceded from the Union. They deprived the sitting Congress of a quorum. In order to continue governing, President Abraham Lincoln issued the very first Presidential Order on April 15, 1861, Executive Order 1.
The most complex consequence of Clause 4 relates to when Congress takes a recess and when it adjourns. A recess is a temporary halt to activity on the floor. Everything stops, and when the recess ends, the chamber resumes from where it left off. A recess might last 10 minutes or it might last weeks. The length of time does not matter. An adjournment is a formal end to business in the chamber, and upon return the chamber does not resume from where it left off. Just like a recess an adjournment can be for one minute or for three weeks. However, unlike a recess, an adjournment creates a new legislative day (this is more relevant to Senate proceedings).
Certain things happen, under the standing rules of the House and Senate, precisely because it is a new legislative day. Much of it is routine business: the reading of the previous day’s journal, filing of reports, delivery of messages from the House, etc., but there are also consequential things. In the Senate, during the first two hours of each new legislative day, motions to proceed are not debatable, and therefore cannot be filibustered.
Any formal break in Legislative Branch activity also opens the door for a President to take certain actions. This includes making appointments which require Senate confirmation, and “pocket vetoing” legislation. A pocket veto means that the Congress cannot override the veto because it is not in session. An adjournment of the Legislative Branch also allows the President to reconvene Congress for a specific action [Article 2, Section 3]. Congressional leaders have devised ways to avoid inadvertently unleashing Presidential activism.
The Congress can take a break from legislative activity, and still avoid a formal recess or adjournment, by meeting in a “pro forma” session. Pro forma means “for the sake of formality”. In recent years pro forma sessions have prevented Presidents from making recess appointments, and in the case of President George W. Bush in 2008, deprived him calling a special session to reauthorize the Protect America Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
As long as a Member convenes either the House or Senate to formally open and close a session there is no recess or adjournment. Members sometimes compete to see how fast they can conduct a pro forma session. The record is currently held by Senate Jack Reed of Rhode Island who completed the task in 12 seconds.
Scot Faulkner served as the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. He earned a Masters in Public Administration from American University, and B.A. in Government from Lawrence University. He is the Executive Director of The Dreyfuss Initiative on civics www.TheDreyfussInitiative.org
Greetings from Arizona! What a beautiful state and friendly people. We stopped to get gas, and several people wanted to know more about Constituting America – we ended up having fascinating conversations with them, about the importance of the Constitution, and their love for our country.
I haven’t blogged since I arrived in California on Friday, so I would like to take a moment to catch you up on our Constituting America We The People 9.17 Road Trip!
We spent Friday with Jacob Wood. If you haven’t listened to Jacob’s prize winning song, “What the Constitution Means to Me,” please go to www.constitutingamerica.org and listen!
Jacob is an outstanding young man! We filmed him all day in preparation for a music video we will release in the next few weeks. We loved getting to know Jacob! We also got to speak with his Pastor, and his parents who shared with us some wonderful stories about him. Look for our Behind the Scenes Video in the coming weeks to learn more about Jacob!
Saturday we prepared for our departure, and today we took off from Los Angeles, headed to Arizona!
As we drove along looking the impressive desert vistas, I read Federalist Paper No. 77, only interrupted by Janine reminding me to look out the window and take in the views!
Federalist No. 77, The Appointing Power Continued and Other Powers of the Executive Considered, continues to explore the President’s power to nominate, and how the Senate’s role affects the balance of power between the White House and the legislative branch. Hamilton even takes time to explore the ramifications if the U.S. House shared in the Advice and Consent role. Near the end of the essay, the remaining powers of the President outlined in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution are quickly mentioned:
“The only remaining powers of the Executive are comprehended in giving information to Congress of the state of the Union; in recommending to their consideration such measures as he shall judge expedient; in convening them, or either branch, upon extraordinary occasions; in adjourning them when they cannot themselves agree upon the time of adjournment; in receiving ambassadors and other public ministers; in faithfully executing the laws; and in commissioning all the officers of the United States.”
The requirement in the Constitution that the President deliver a State of the Union address to Congress:
“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union,”
is one of the few specific requirements of the President in the Constitution. Most of the powers given to the President may be utilized at his discretion, but the State of the Union is required. I am surprised Publius did not spend more time on Article II, Section 3. I find the State of the Union requirement of the President fascinating, as a validation of the President’s unique bird’s eye view of the country, and as a confirmation of the importance the framers placed on the legislative branch of government, by requiring a report be made to them.
Dr. Matthew Spalding, in the Heritage Guide to the Constitution, gives an interesting history of State of the Union speeches, on page 217. Presidents Washington and Adams delivered their State of the Union speeches orally, as was the expectation by the framers. Thomas Jefferson, however, broke with tradition and delivered his State of the Union speech in written form, read aloud by the clerks in Congress. Jefferson felt an in person delivery was “too pompous.” President Wilson was the first after John Adams to deliver his State of the Union orally, and every President since President Franklin D. Roosevelt has followed that tradition. President Coolidge’s State of the Union address was the first broadcast by radio in 1923, and Harry Truman’s 1947 State of the Union address was the first broadcast by television.
I have had the privilege of attending several State of the Union Speeches, including one by President Reagan, one by President Clinton, one by President George H.W. Bush, and one by President George W. Bush. All I witnessed were an impressive display of the three branches of government, personified by the individuals filling the U.S. House Chamber:
The members of Congress: U.S. House of Representative Members and U.S. Senators, fill the Chamber. The Speaker of the House is seated behind the President, as is the Vice President, who serves as the President pro tempore of the Senate. The Supreme Court Justices line the front row.
One of the more famous State of the Union speeches occurred when President Obama rebuked the Supreme Court for their Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision:
“with all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that corrects some of these problems.”
Many have debated if it was appropriate for President Obama to criticize the Judiciary Branch so strongly in such a forum, with the Justices seated directly in front of him. The appropriateness of Justice Alito’s reaction, of mouthing “not true,” has also been debated and discussed. I believe that when attacked, a person has a right to defend himself. Justice Alito was perfectly within his bounds mouthing “not true.” It is unfortunate it was necessary.
Just as President Obama should not have attacked the Supreme Court in his 2010 State of the Union, Representative Joe Wilson should not have shouted out “You lie!” in President Obama’s first State of the Union in 2009. When decorum is breached in the State of the Union, or anywhere, sadly standards degenerate on all sides.
The intricate layers of checks and balances in the United States Constitution is amazing. They are buried in the nooks and crannies of the Constitution, and the State of the Union requirement is an example of this. The simple requirement of a State of the Union speech puts yet another check and balance into play, and give and take between the branches goes on!
Looking forward to Federalist No. 78, the Judiciary Department! AND looking forward to telling you about the next We the People 9.17 winner we are unveiling tomorrow in Arizona!!
Good night and God Bless,
Thursday, August 12th, 2010
In Federalist 82, Alexander Hamilton continues his defense of the federal judicial arrangements proposed in the Constitution, focusing here upon the relation between the national and state judicial systems. In brief, Hamilton argues that the jurisdiction of the national and state courts is concurrent with respect to any issue not strictly forbidden to the states by the Constitution or laws. To understand the doctrine of concurrent jurisdiction, a brief look at the power structure elaborated in the Constitution will be helpful.
The Constitution establishes three main branches of government. In Article I, Section 8, specific lawmaking powers are assigned to Congress. In Article II, Sections 2 and 3, executive powers are assigned to the President. Judicial power is assigned to the Supreme Court (and lower federal courts that Congress chooses to establish) in Article III, Section 2. The judicial power is precisely stated to be the power to decide cases and controversies arising under the Constitution, laws and treaties of the United States.
After establishing and assigning powers to the national government, the Constitution then places some limits on how national power can be exercised. This is done first in Article I, Section 9, where the government is denied the power to pass ex post facto laws or bills of attainder, for example. Article I, Section 10 places a similar set of limitations on the state governments. After the Constitution was adopted, the First Congress proposed twelve amendments, ten of which were adopted. These amendments, now referred to as the Bill of Rights, were designed to impose additional limits on the national government.
The final article in the Bill of Rights is the Tenth Amendment. This provision is declaratory, meaning that it simply states what was already implicit in the Constitution. It reserves to the states all powers not assigned to the nation (e.g., in Articles I, II, or III) or denied to the states (e.g., in Article I, Section 10). Some powers granted to the nation are obviously allowed to the states as well (e.g., taxation, general law enforcement, and application of law by courts). These are called “concurrent” powers.
Hamilton’s argument in Federalist 82 is simply that one of the concurrent powers shared by both the state and national judiciaries is the power to apply federal law in cases properly arising in the courts. This means that state courts are empowered to decide federal questions (whether constitutional or statutory) in the first instance, subject to appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court or to inferior federal courts that Congress chooses to establish. This reading of the Constitution is necessitated by the fact that the Constitution itself established no inferior federal courts at all and severely restricted the Supreme Court’s trial jurisdiction to a narrow range of cases.
This reading of the Constitution is also necessitated by the very nature of judicial power. According to Hamilton, “The judiciary power of every government looks beyond its own local or municipal laws, and in civil cases lays hold of all subjects of litigation between parties within its jurisdiction, though the causes of dispute are relative to the laws of the most distant part of the globe. Those of Japan, not less than of New York, may furnish the objects of legal discussion to our courts. When in addition to this we consider the State governments and the national governments, as they truly are, in the light of kindred systems, and as parts of ONE WHOLE, the inference seems to be conclusive that the State courts would have a concurrent jurisdiction in all cases arising under the laws of the Union where it was not expressly prohibited.”
When concurrent powers exercised by both the state and national governments conflict, Article VI of the Constitution grants supremacy to the nation, stating that “This Constitution, the Laws Pursuant to it, and federal Treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land, anything in the constitution or laws of a state to the contrary notwithstanding.” Thus state judges are instructed to invalidate conflicting state laws. If they fail to do this, Article III, Section 2, which extends national judicial power to all cases arising under the Constitution, empowers the federal courts to overrule the state courts.
In the Judiciary Act of 1789, Section 25, the First Congress enacted Hamilton’s understanding of concurrent jurisdiction explicitly, authorizing the United States Supreme Court to reverse or affirm any judgment of a state’s highest court in which a national law is invalidated or in which a state law is upheld against a federal constitutional challenge. In other words, if a state court invalidates a national law, then the Supreme Court is authorized to reverse or affirm that state court decision. This means that the concurrent jurisdiction of the state and national courts extends even to federal constitutional issues.
The bottom line in Hamilton’s argument about concurrent jurisdiction is that there is no strict separation of national and state judicial authority under the Constitution. The Founders envisioned a more flexible arrangement that allows courts to draw upon all legitimate legal authorities and sources in order to resolve disputes peacefully. That is the essence of the judicial function.
Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
Robert Lowry Clinton is professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.