Monday, January 28, 2008

From time to time, not annually

As we wait for President Bush to deliver his final State of the Union Address this evening, it's worth mentioning that the practice of this happening annually in January is a custom, not a Constitutional command. The Constitution only mandates that "(The President) 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," Art. II, Sec. 3.

In other words, the President can give this message any time; it need not be within the first few weeks of the new year. Nor has a January occurrence always been the case; George Washington's final State of the Union was delivered on December 7, 1796 (Currie, David P. The Constitution in Congress: The Federalist Period 1789-1801. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997, p. 222, n. 126.)

What is interesting is that the phrase "From time to time" doesn't specify a minimum OR a maximum number of State of the Union addresses. In theory, a President could do this every two years instead of annually. Or, if he really wanted to annoy Congress, he could deliver one every month. Don't hold your breath that this will ever happen, of course.

Maybe this is more off the wall, but don't the words "give to the Congress information" really mean only that the President needs to convey his message to the men and women who comprise the body, and not that he actually has to do it in the building where they typically assemble? Suppose Congress and the President all flew to Honolulu for this exercise; that wouldn't be unconstitutional, would it? Can you picture George Bush in a flowered shirt and Bermuda shorts addressing the Senators and Representatives on the beach?

Well, I hope that never happens. We don't need an event ignored by the majority of Americans to be held in Honolulu every winter. We've already got the Pro Bowl for that...

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