For the past 15 years or so, I’ve been aware of an argument within the “patriot” community that runs something like this:
Seven southern States of America walked out of the Second Session of the Thirty-sixth Congress on March 27, A.D. 1861. In so doing, the Constitutional due process quorum necessary for Congress to vote was lost and Congress was adjourned sine die, or “without day.” To some, this meant that there was no lawful quorum to set a specific day and time to reconvene.
Some people argue that once Congress adjourned “sine die” in A.D. 1861, it permanently ceased to exist and could never again be lawfully reconvened. Therefore, they argue that any alleged “Congress” since A.D. 1861 is illusory and fraudulent and any laws passed since A.D. 1861 are unconstitutional, null and void.
I don’t believe that “sine die” argument has much weight. Why?
First, because Wikipedia defines “adjournment sine die” as follows:
“Adjournment sine die (from the Latin “without day”) means “without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing”. To adjourn an assembly sine die is to adjourn it for an indefinite period. A legislative body adjourns sine die when it adjourns without appointing a day on which to appear or assemble again.
“It can be used in reference to legislatures whose terms or mandates are coming to an end, and it is anticipated that this particular body will not meet again. A legislative body adjourned in this way may be called back into special session, a reason why sine die adjournment rather than dissolution may be preferred in some cases.
“A corporate board might adjourn sine die if the corporation were being sold, merged, or liquidated.
“A court may also adjourn a matter sine die, which means the matter is stayed permanently. This may be due to various reasons, for example if the case is started with a wrong procedure chosen the judge may adjourn the matter sine die so that the party may choose to start the action again with the correct procedure. It may also be thus adjourned if there is no possibility of proceeding in the foreseeable future – for example an action may be adjourned sine die if the individual is in prison and there is no prospect of continuing the action at that time. In a sine die adjournment of this type, the hearing stands open indefinitely, and could theoretically be resumed if the situation changed.”
Wikipedia is not the final authority on the definition of “sine die,” but it’s still worth noting that an even an “adjournment sin die” can be reconvened into a “special session”. Thus, an “adjournment sin die” is not necessarily permanent.
Secondly, each “Congress” is numbered and distinct. There’s a completely new Congress elected every two years. Congress #1 ceases to exist and Congress #2 begins. Congress #2 ceases to exist, and then Congress #3 begins. If I understand correctly, each new Congress starts in January after an election, and lasts a maximum of 24 months. Then the next Congress takes office in another January and lasts for a maximum of 24 months.
But just because a Congress can last for a maximum of 24 months doesn’t mean that it must last for the full 24 months. A Congress might only meet for 6 months in the first year after it’s elected, adjourn for six months, go home, and then come back for another 6 months in the second year after it’s elected. This was particularly true in the first century or so after this country started when our Congress wasn’t a full time hustle.
Thus, it would be entirely possible for the 17th Congress to adjourn “sine die” in July of the second year of its existence, never return to Washington DC and thereby cut short its total existence from a maximum of 24 months to just 19 months. But the fact that the 17th Congress adjourned “sine die” and ceased to exist before its 24-month maximum had expired, has no bearing on the next election of the next (18th) Congress.
I don’t care if the People caught every member of the 17th Congress and hanged ‘em all. Neither those hypothetical hangings, nor any “sine die” adjournment are capable of amending the Constitution. I.e., the Constitution makes no proviso for all future Congresses to cease to exist simply because one Congress screwed up.
When (as per the Constitution) the next election takes place in November and the new (18th) Congress is elected, that new Congress will be seated again in the following January and will hold office for a maximum of 24 months. If that 18th Congress is also hanged, or prematurely adjourns “sine die,” the Constitution specifies that the next election will be held in November and those elected to the 19th Congress will take office the following January for a maximum of 24 months.
The Constitution does not declare that the premature cessation of any one Congress terminates all future Congresses. No matter what, no Congress will last for more than 24 months, some Congresses may expire in less than 24 months, but—so long as the Constitution has any authority—a completely new and distinct Congress will be elected every 24 months.
The “Congress” is not a single entity that’s been in continuous existence since the late 1700s. There’s a completely new and separate Congress elected every two years that holds office for a maximum of 24 months. When one Congress ends has no bearing on the legitimacy of the next Congress.
If I understand correctly, we are currently enduring the 112th “Congress”. That means there’ve been 111 previous “Congresses” and, starting next January, there will be a 113th Congress. The fact that any one of those earlier 111 “Congresses” adjourned sine die has no bearing on the subsequent elections and constitutional existence of the other 110 “Congresses”.
I always stand to be corrected. However, so far as I can see, the argument that because one Congress adjourned “sine die” all future Congresses are rendered unconstitutional is false. In fact, pending correction, I regard that argument as irrational.