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Pro Forma Session

Definition: A pro forma session is a short period of time when either the House or Senate is technically in legislative session but when no votes are held and no formal business is typically conducted. It is a Latin term meaning “in form only.”

Used in a Sentence: Both the House and the Senate held pro forma sessions to block the President from making recess appointments.

What It Means: Pro forma sessions are authorized by the Constitution, which requires that each House of Congress grant permission to each other if a recess lasts longer than three days. Members of Congress can gavel in and out of the House and Senate galleries to show that either Chamber is still in a pro forma session.

History: Pro forma sessions have become mired in controversy over the years and have been used as a strategy by political parties to restrict a President’s ability to make recess appointments to temporarily fill cabinet/political positions. Under the Constitution, the President has the authority to make appointments when Congress is in recess. However, if Congress is in-session (normally conducting daily business and votes or in a pro forma session where business is not being conducted), the President is not supposed to be able to make temporary recess appointments, pocket-veto bills, or call for a special session of Congress. In 2012, the Obama Administration challenged the law and appointments were issued, regardless of the Senate claiming that it was not in recess but otherwise in a pro forma session between recess periods.