“Democrats relinquishing the Senate have outlined an ambitious agenda for the lame-duck session,” reports the Boston Globe. The Democrats are “likely to have bold plans for the lame duck,” says NBC News. Lots and lots of business is evidently being packed into the brief window between the Nov. 4 election and Jan. 3, when the next Congress is sworn-in. That’s too bad. Lame-duck sessions, absent national emergency, are actually a very bad idea.
The constitutional gap between ballot and authority is an artifact of the logistics of a bygone age. The Framers of the Constitution never seriously imagined the possibility that senators and representatives would be able to convene within days or even hours of the vote.
Nevertheless, the practice of lame-duck sessions is as old as the Republic. The most famous came when the defeated Federalists returned to Washington in December 1801, and faced what the legal scholar Bruce Ackerman, in his book “The Failure of the Founding Fathers,” calls “a condition of overwhelming temptation.” The lapse of time before the newly elected Republican Congress took office, writes Ackerman, offered the Federalists “a golden opportunity to abuse their political power before handing it over to their rivals.”