Recess Appointments

President Obama set off a political firestorm by asserting his power to appoint high-level officials while the Senate is in recess. Get a legal expert’s take on the constitutional issues behind this controversy.

Adam Freedman
January 23, 2012

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Today’s topic: Recess Appointments      

And now, your daily dose of legalese: This article does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. In other words, although I am a lawyer, I’m not your lawyer. In fact, we barely know each other. If you need personalized legal advice, contact an attorney in your community.

What’s The Fuss Over Recess Appointments?

The very first weeks of 2012 brought a political firestorm, and a possible constitutional crisis to Washington. It’s all about the seemingly arcane issue of the president’s power to make “recess appointments.” The US Constitution requires the president to submit all major appointments to the Senate for a vote – except that he can make temporary appointments when the Senate is in “recess” – that’s a recess appointment. In early January, President Obama appointed four executive officials without asking the Senate. The President said that the Senate was in recess, but the Senate said it was not. Hence the controversy inspiring Op-Ed pieces in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and just about every other major newspaper. In today’s article, I’ll take you through the issues. .

The Constitution Requires Senate “Advice and Consent”

Why do people care about recess appointments? For the president and his supporters, they are a way to ensure that the administration continues to function despite congressional resistance. On the other hand, some members of Congress (generally those who oppose the president), argue that recess appointments are an exception to the usual checks and balances – and that the president is using such appointments to name controversial officials who wouldn’t otherwise get Senate approval.