In Congress, what is an Adjournment Sine Die?

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Adjournment sine die translates as adjournment without a day. The term and the process are used when the US congress ends its legislative session. Since the date is already set for the next session to start, or may be set by some state legislatures or senates after congress adjourns, it isn’t necessary to name a day when a congressional session will begin again. Calling for adjournment sine die is usually the last act of the Congressional session when it ends for the year. It’s also recognition that when Congress reconvenes, some members will have lost their jobs, and there will be new members. That specific Congress and its members will not all meet again, even though a date is set for the new Congress to meet.

The US Congress had some difficulties when it initially began. One major issue was that transportation to attend congressional sessions took a very long time. To adjust for that, newly elected politicians often had to wait for thirteen months before they actually went to work. The congressmen still in session, who would be giving up their jobs, continued to act until this takeover, and were called lame duck politicians. They might, having lost their job, be completely disinterested in politics, or make decisions that didn’t truly represent the people.


As transportation improved, and people saw that the lame duck period wasn’t in the interest of the people, legislators sought to shorten the time that lame duck politicians or a lame duck congress remained seated. This led to the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1932, which appointed a much shorter time period between the end of one congress and the beginning of the next. It specifically called for Congress to begin every other year on January 3rd at noon.

There are several important features about adjournment sine die. First it provides for the first year of a session of Congress to be fairly long and filled with progress. But the second year may mean that at least a third of Congress may have to run for re-election. Congress can thus shorten its second year considerably if many of its members are campaigning.

Another important aspect of shortening the second session is so that a lame duck Congress is not empowered to vote to elect the new president. The last thing an incoming president wants or needs is a hostile congress that fights his/her election or passes bills not in keeping with any changes in political or administrative focus. Adjournment sine die is also recognition of the limitation of power in the second year of the Congressional session, similar to a football team kneeling at the end of the game, instead of playing a final play. Actions taken have been sufficient; the game is “played out.”

Adjournment sine die is also used in courts. A court may adjourn without setting a specific date for reconvening. Corporate boards may use an adjournment sine die if a company is closing, being bought out, or has gone bankrupt.


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Post 1

A question regarding this:

1) What if a legislative body adjourns sine die, and then never reconvenes, or, reconvenes missing a substantial amount of delegates (as occurred during the 35th and 36th Congresses of the U.S.)?

2) Does this nullify the legislative body?

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