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The Original Meaning of Recess

98 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2014 Last revised: 25 Mar 2015

David J. Arkush

University of Richmond - School of Law

Date Written: July 9, 2014


This Article reevaluates the original meaning of “recess” in the Recess Appointments Clause. The dominant view of that word holds that it refers only to breaks between official Senate sessions. By identifying new evidence and correcting mistaken interpretations, this Article finds support only for the conclusion that the original public meaning of “recess” was ordinary and broad, referring to any time when a legislative body is not conducting business. The evidence does not support any particular limitation on recesses, although it does not rule out the possibility that one existed. For those seeking to limit “recess,” the Article poses four reasonable nonoriginalist limiting constructions. It also considers whether the divergence in views on “recess” can be attributed to methodological differences among originalists and finds that explanation improbable. Finally, the Article makes two general points that arise from its analysis: it may be more difficult than is widely appreciated to establish a specialized original meaning, and scholars making originalist claims should provide clear accounts of the scope and limitations of their research.

Keywords: recess appointments clause, recess appointments, presidential appointments, originalism, new originalism, original meaning, original public meaning, constitutional law, administrative law, noel canning

Suggested Citation

Arkush, David J., The Original Meaning of Recess (July 9, 2014). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: or

David J. Arkush (Contact Author)

University of Richmond - School of Law ( email )

28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA 23173
United States

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