Advice and consent is an English phrase frequently used in enacting formulae of bills and in other legal or constitutional contexts. It describes either of two situations: 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 British monarchy (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, but 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.
While several framers of the U.S. Constitution, such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, 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. 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 nomination is sent to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. 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, as well as other similar delaying tactics, have been used to require higher vote tallies in the past.
On November 21, 2013, the Democratic Party, led by then-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. However, he left the filibuster in place for Supreme Court nominees.
In April 2017, the Republican Party, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did the same for Supreme Court nominations, allowing Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench, despite what might have otherwise been a successful Democratic filibuster.
Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination was controversial because of late allegations against him about instances of sexual assault in high school. Kavanaugh accused Democrats of opposing his nomination by replacing "advice and consent" with "search and destroy".