Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

Article I, Section 5, Clause 4

Dividing the legislative department into two equal branches was one of the most important checks on the legislative power that the Framers devised. At the same time, the Framers believed that it was vital to the affairs of the nation that one House not be permitted to keep Congress as a whole from meeting and performing its functions. Under this clause, neither House can use its power to adjourn to another time or to another place in order to check the actions of the other branch of the legislature. If the two Houses cannot agree on a time of adjournment, then pursuant to Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, the President can "adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper." At the Virginia ratifying convention, James Monroe and George Mason worried that the clause might give the Senate the power to prevent House Members from returning home, but James Madison opined that the President's power to resolve the dispute would prevent the Senate from keeping the House hostage to its will. Since the time of the First Congress, the two branches have always reached agreement, and the President has never had to intervene.

At the Constitutional Convention, Rufus King raised a different concern. He worried that the two Houses of Congress could actually move the seat of government merely by agreeing upon the place to which they would adjourn. The Convention decided that Congress could by law establish the seat of government (see Article I, Section 8, Clause 17), but the Framers left Congress the option of making temporary moves in the face of exigencies. Thus, during the times of yellow-fever outbreaks in the 1790s, the three departments moved from Philadelphia to Trenton. Of course, during the War of 1812, the government fled from Washington.

Congress has followed the text of the Adjournment Clause. Either House may adjourn or recess for up to three days on its own motion. Longer adjournments or recesses, or adjournments sine die, ending a session, require the concurrent resolution of both Houses. An adjournment of whatever length ends the "legislative day," requiring much legislative business to be recommenced when the chamber reconvenes. In the Senate, introduced bills must lie over one legislative day before they can be considered. Recesses do not interrupt the legislative process.

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David F. Forte
Professor of Law
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law