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A crucial constitutional decision

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Constitutional arguments that seem as dry as dust can have momentous consequences. On Monday, the Supreme Court’s nine fine minds will hear oral arguments about the meaning of “the” and “happen.” What they decide could advance the urgent project of reining in rampant executive power.

“The president,” says the Constitution, “shall have the power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate” (emphasis added). Monday’s case concerns whether Barack Obama made recess appointments when the Senate was not in recess, and made them to fill vacancies that did not happen during a recess.

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