The Recess Appointments clause: Amicus brief on original meaning based on State practices

As VC readers know, an all-star cast of constitutional legal scholars, including three Volokhians, submitted an amicus brief in NLRB v. Noel Canning. Blog posts about that brief are here (pro forma sessions), here (“recess” and “session”) and here (“happen”). That brief focuses mainly on the text of the Constitution and interpretive practice, especially early practice. (The VC co-authors were William Baude, Dale Carpenter, and Eugene Kontorovich, plus former VC writer Michael McConnell.)

Another amicus brief in the case address the contemporary legal meaning of the words and phrases in the Recess Appointments Clause. The main sources for information about this are the records of the state legislatures during and before the ratification period. These sources clearly show that a “recess” took place only between the formal sessions of a legislative body. For a vacancy to “happen” during the recess, the vacancy must first arise during the recess. If a vacancy arises while a legislature in session, and the office is still vacant when the legislature goes into recess, the vacancy did not “happen” during the recess.

This originalist amicus brief was filed on behalf of the Independence Institute. The brief is based on the research contained in the article The Origins and Meaning of ‘Vacancies that May Happen During the Recess’ in the Constitution’s Recess Appointments Clause, by my Independence Institute colleague Rob Natelson. [Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 37, No. 1 (2014), forthcoming.]

Thanks to the Polsinelli firm, and to attorneys Sean R. Gallagher, Bennett L. Cohen, and Jon R. Dedon for writing the brief. The Independence Institute also worked with the Polsinelli firm this summer, in an amicus brief for a cert. petition in Bakoss v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London (arguing state law, rather than federal common law, should supply the definition of “arbitration” in the Federal Arbitration Act, so to minimize FAA displacement of traditional State authority over contract law).

There are a lot of great originalist scholars, but in my opinion, no-one matches Rob Natelson in understanding the legal context of the Founding Era–such as agency law–which informed the original understanding of the Constitution’s various terms. For the Recess Appointments Clause research, Rob followed his usual methodology of digging deeply into the relevant documents from the 18th century, and reporting what he found.