State of the Union Address 2014: Myths and Facts

What You’ll See is Tradition, Not Law

Every year, the president delivers his State of the Union address to a special joint session of Congress. President Obama will do so Tuesday night, January 28, at 9:00 PM. The usual fanfare will accompany the event. Maybe there will some surprises too.

The U.S. Constitution divides our government into three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. The courts are the judicial branch. Congress is the Legislative, or law-making, branch. The president heads the Executive, or management branch. The cabinet departments are in the Executive Branch and manage the nation’s daily business under the president’s direction. The president is the nation’s chief executive officer, just like the CEO of a large corporation.

Eighteenth century communications weren’t as fast or thorough as they are today. So our founders required the president to report to Congress occasionally on how the nation was doing. Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution says:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient. . . .

Yes, that’s all it says. The president is required to report “from time to time”. The law does not require the report to be in person, on television, in January, or even once a year. The report could be in writing, or in private meetings. It could take place more or less often. If he wanted to, President Obama could e-mail every member of Congress every day. Several presidents have delivered written messages. You can see a full report on SOTU addresses here.


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