Monday, February 13, 2006

Amtrak and the Constitution

I could not figure out why certain Senators were not very vocal about President Bush's two recent "appointments" to the Amtrak Board. So I thought I would read the Constitution, specifically Article II, Section 2:

"The President shall have Power to fill up Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session."

These Presidential Appointments have been going on for as long as the Republic has existed. I don't understand why a legal challenge has not been issued regarding the fact that it can be interpreted that such a vacancy should have happened DURING the Recess, rather than a vacancy that existed BEFORE the Recess. Be that as it may, I am sympathetic to the Framers' desire to keep the Legislative Branch from paralyzing the Executive Branch.

Regardless, I do now understand why there has been no public outrage by various Amtrak-supporting Senators over these recent Bush Appointees.

I haven't had time yet to fully digest the recent Administration Budget Proposals for both Amtrak and the FTA. Hopefully, that will happen before the end of the week.


At 8:56 PM, February 13, 2006, Anonymous Matthew Shugart said...

That is a really good point that the clause can be read to mean the right of recess appointments extends only to vacancies that occur during the recess.

I do not agree, however, that the purpose of the clause (however it is interpreted) is to prevent the legislature from tying up the executive. It is simply to prevent the executive from not being able to function when the Senate is not available to vote on a nomination.

Back in the early days of the republlic, recesses were in efect most of the time. Now they are exceptional. I would argue that the clause was never intended to let presidents bypass Senate opposition. It was only meant to allow the government to function during the long periods that a vote in the Senate was simply impossible.

Like a lot of provisions in a mor ethan 200-year-old constitution, recess appointments are archaic. It is surprising they are still permitted, because it seems both parties would have an incentive to ensure their Senators always have a voice in appointments.


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