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Legislative Role of the President

Section 3. He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on 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.

LEGISLATIVE ROLE OF THE PRESIDENT

The clause directing the President to report to the Congress on the state of the union imposes a duty rather than confers a power, and is the formal basis of the President’s legislative leadership. The President’s legislative role has attained great proportions since 1900. This development, however, represents the play of political and social forces rather than any pronounced change in constitutional interpretation. Especially is it the result of the rise of parties and the accompanying recognition of the President as party leader, of the appearance of the National Nominating Convention and the Party Platform, and of the introduction of the Spoils System, an ever present help to Presidents in times of troubled relations with Congress.570 It is true that certain pre-Civil War Presidents, mostly of Whig extraction, professed to entertain nice scruples on the score of “usurping” legislative powers,571 but still earlier ones, Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson among them, took a very different line, albeit less boldly and persistently than their later imitators.572 Today, there is no subject on which the President may not appropriately communicate to Congress, in as precise terms as he chooses, his conception of its duty. Conversely, the President is not obliged by this clause to impart information which, in his judgment, should in the public interest be withheld.573 The President has frequently summoned both Houses into “extra” or “special sessions” for legislative purposes, and the Senate alone for the consideration of nominations and treaties. His power to adjourn the Houses has never been exercised.

570 N. SMALL, SOME PRESIDENTIAL INTERPRETATIONS OF THE PRESIDENCY (1932); W. BINKLEY, THE PRESIDENT AND CONGRESS (2d ed. 1962); E. Corwin, supra, chs. 1, 7.

571 The first Harrison, Polk, Taylor, and Fillmore all fathered sentiments to this general effect. See 4 J. Richardson, supra at 1860, 1864; 6 id. at 2513-19, 2561-62, 2608, 2615.

572 See sources cited supra.

573 Warren, Presidential Declarations of Independence, 10 B.U.L. REV. 1 (1930); 3 W. Willoughby, supra at 1488-1492.

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Last modified: August 28, 2012