Advice and consent
Advice and consent is an English phrase frequently used in enacting formulae of bills and in other legal or constitutional contexts. It may describe two situations, either where a weak executive branch of a government enacts something previously approved of by the legislative branch or where the legislative branch concurs and approves something previously enacted by a strong executive branch.
The concept serves to moderate the power of one branch of government by requiring the concurrence of another branch for selected actions. The expression is frequently used in weak executive systems where the head of state has little practical power, and in practice the important part of the passage of a law is in its adoption by the legislature.
BE IT ENACTED by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:
This enacting formula emphasizes that, although legally the bill is being enacted by the Queen of the United Kingdom (specifically, by the Queen-in-Parliament), it is not through her initiative but through that of Parliament that legislation is created.
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In the United States, "advice and consent" is a power of the United States Senate to be consulted on and approve treaties signed and appointments made by the President of the United States to public positions, including Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, United States Attorneys, and ambassadors. This power is also held by several state Senates, which are consulted on and approve various appointments made by the state's chief executive, such as some statewide officials, state departmental heads in the Governor's cabinet, and state judges (in some states).
The term "advice and consent" first appears in the United States Constitution in Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, referring to the senate's role in the signing and ratification of treaties. This term is then used again, to describe the Senate's role in the appointment of public officials, immediately after describing the president's duty to nominate officials. Article II, Section 2, paragraph 2 of the United States Constitution states:
[The President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
This language was written at the Constitutional Convention as part of a delicate compromise concerning the balance of power in the federal government. Many delegates preferred to develop a strong executive control vested in the president, while others, worried about authoritarian control, preferred to strengthen the congress. Requiring the president to gain the advice and consent of the senate achieved both goals without hindering the business of government.
Under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, appointments to the office of Vice President are confirmed by a majority vote in both Houses of Congress, instead of just the Senate.
Historical development of power
Several framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that the required role of the Senate is to advise the President after the nomination has been made by the President. Roger Sherman believed that advice before nomination could still be helpful. Likewise, President George Washington took the position that pre-nomination advice was allowable but not mandatory. The notion that pre-nomination advice is optional has developed into the unification of the "advice" portion of the power with the "consent" portion, although several Presidents have consulted informally with Senators over nominations and treaties.
Typically, a congressional hearing is held to question an appointee prior to a committee vote. If the nominee is approved by the relevant committee, the full Senate must then approve the nomination. The actual motion adopted by the Senate when exercising the power is "to advise and consent". For appointments, a majority of Senators present are needed to pass a motion "to advise and consent". A filibuster requiring a three-fifths vote to override, and other similar delaying tactics have been used to require higher vote tallies in the past. On November 21, 2013, the Democratic Party, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid overrode the filibuster of a nomination with a simple majority vote to change the rules. As a result, for instance, judicial nominees to federal courts and a president's executive-branch nominations can be freed up for a confirmation vote by a simple majority vote of the senate. Nominees to the Supreme Court can still be blocked by 41 senators, however.
- Currie, David. The Constitution in Congress: The Federalist Period, 1789-1801, page 25 (University of Chicago Press 1997) via Google Books: "Madison, Jefferson, and Jay all advised Washington not to consult the Senate before making nominations."
- Hamilton, Alexander. Federalist No. 76 (1788): “In the act of nomination, his judgment alone will be exercised.”
- Letter from Roger Sherman to John Adams (July 1789) in The Founders Constitution: "their advice may enable him to make such judicious appointments."
- U.S. Senate history on the power to advise and consent: "In selecting nominees, Washington turned to his closest advisers and to members of Congress, but the president resolutely insisted that he alone would be responsible for the final selection. He shared a common view that the Senate's constitutionally mandated 'advice' was to come after the nomination was made."
- U.S. Senate Rule 30: "On the final question to advise and consent to the ratification in the form agreed to, the concurrence of two-thirds of the Senators present shall be necessary to determine it in the affirmative."
- U.S. Senate Rule 31: "the final question on every nomination shall be, 'Will the Senate advise and consent to this nomination?'"
- Plumer, Brad (November 21, 2013). "It's official: The Senate just got rid of part of the filibuster". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 1, 2014.