The Latin term sine die translates as “without fixing a day [for future action].” When an adjournment is granted sine die in a court of law, this means that the court has neglected to assign a specific date for another conference or hearing in the future. To adjourn a matter sine die means to adjourn it for an indefinite period of time.
A legislative body that agrees to adjourn sine die agrees to adjourn without picking a date in the future on which they should get together again. To explore this concept, consider the following sine die definition.
Definition of Sine Die
- To adjourn without picking a future date; to adjourn indefinitely.
1607 Latin “without day”
What is Sine Die
When a matter is adjourned sine die, this means that a specific date has not been chosen for the matter to be heard, or for the meeting to resume. The matter is simply adjourned indefinitely. The phrase sine die is translated from Latin to mean “without day.”
Specifically, sine die is often used to refer to legislative bodies whose terms are coming to an end. This is because it is not expected that this legislative body will meet again in its present form or membership. Sine die is chosen over dissolution in some cases because a case that has been adjourned sine die may still be called back for a special session, as opposed to dissolving the case outright.
Adjournment Sine Die
A court may also adjourn a case sine die. An adjournment sine die means that the matter is being stayed until the court provides the parties with further notice, which can be done for a variety of reasons. For example, sine die might be used in a case that was initiated incorrectly, so as to give the party another chance to start the action over again, and to do it correctly the second time around.
An adjournment sine die may also be invoked if it appears that it will not be possible to proceed in the immediate future. For instance, an adjournment sine die might be sought if the defendant in the case is in prison and the action must wait until he gets out to continue. In this case, the hearing remains in an indefinite open status and can be revisited at any point upon any changes in the defendant’s situation.
Other examples of sine die include conventions and corporations adjourning sine die. In the former, a convention may adjourn sine die if the business that was being handled during its meetings had been completed. The sine die adjournment would therefore dissolve the body. In the latter, a corporate board may adjourn sine die if the business were being sold or merged with another company.
Sine Die Example Involving Congressional Sessions
An example of sine die can be found in the way Congress normally operates. When people head to the polls biannually for a Federal election, they are electing a particular Congress, the members of which remain in Congress for the next two years. For instance, the Congress that created laws in 2013 and 2014 was not the same Congress that made laws in 2015 and 2016. Each “session” in Congress lasts roughly the length of one year. Congress then adjourns sine die at the end of each annual season.
In the past, Congress would only meet for a few months out of the year and would then employ a sine die adjournment that would begin a recess that could last for months. Today, however, Congress usually meets in Washington up to and including most of December, including Christmas Eve in rare cases. Recesses now are only a week or two at most, which is significantly shorter than its traditional recesses in August used to be.
What happens, though, to the legislative process when Congress goes on recess? What about all of those outstanding laws? When one Congress’ term is up, they take all of the legislation they were working on with them. This means that if a sine die adjournment occurs at the end of a Congressional term, then any bills that were still in consideration, not having been made into law, are terminated permanently.
In theory, Congress could be called into session again before the expiration of its members’ terms for the sole purpose of deciding on leftover bills, but such sessions are incredibly rare. In all likelihood, Congress would only return to consider legislation that would concern circumstances that would require them to return in the first place. Else, if a sine die adjournment is called, and a member of Congress was working on a bill that had not yet been passed, he would have no choice but to reintroduce the bill to the next Congress.
During a sine die adjournment, the President is permitted to fill governmental vacancies while the Congress has left Washington. This actually became an issue in January of 2012, when President Barack Obama appointed several positions during “recess,” when the Senate was technically continuing to meet. These meetings are known as “pro forma” sessions, wherein a presiding officer calls everyone to meet, and then dismisses the meeting quickly, usually without any real business taking place.
The matter was brought before the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously against the President. The Court held that pro forma sessions were legitimate meetings of the Senate, and that the President was entitled to make appointments only during an actual recess. Specifically, such a recess is defined as a break that occurs between two sessions of Congress, or a sine die adjournment.