The relevant provision is Section 15, Article VI of the 1987 Consitution. It reads:
Section 15. The Congress shall convene once every year on the fourth Monday of July for its regular session, unless a different date is fixed by law, and shall continue to be in session for such number of days as it may determine until thirty days before the opening of its next regular session, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. The President may call a special session at any time.
What is a regular session of Congress?
It may be termed as its “legislative year,” comparable to a calendar year of law-making functions, and supposedly all sub-functions that go with it. With a term of three years, each Congress has three regular sessions. (e.g. 13th Congress, First Regular Session was from July 2004 to 25 June 2005, the Second Regular Session, therefore starts on 25 of July 2005.)
What is the argument for ending all congressional inquiries at this time?
Since the First Regular Session is ending (or had ended last 25 July 2005), the committee which is a mere branch or limb of Congress already has no authority to conduct hearings. Simply put, when the tree is dead, so are its branches.
What is the argument against ending congressional inquiries at this time?
A common reading of the provision above only says the session ends 30 days before the start of the regular session. Neither this, nor Section 22 of the same Article of the Constitution says all committee hearings must end with each session.
If we follow the argument for ending the hearings, as those in favor of continuing would say, we have to end all hearings while Congress is in recess or when it has adjourned (as in what happened now). So if the hearings continued when session has already adjourned, as in the case now, there is no reason why it should stop because of this provision.
Besides, the President can still call a special session well after this supposed deadline. Of course, she will not because there is no need for such a call.
What argument do you favor?
Both sides are, of course, legally defensible. It’s a good topic for debate, though it would waste a lot of time again…watch for someone who will raise a point of order in both Houses…
Obviously based on the discussion above, and the motto of my friend Ron Allan, I would favor continuing the hearings and not rely on this debatable constitutional issue. If the hearings end abruptly, it will reinforce the public perception that there is a cover-up going on…
(But this is just my opinion. Of course it does not count, even in the blogosphere. But thanks for listening [or reading] anyway…)