There was the following quote from Adam B. Schiff, Democrat Representative on President Obama’s request for a formal authorization of Congress to fight the Islamic State in New York Times article (February 10), titled “Obama to seek war bill from Congress to fight ISIS.

“Representative Adam B. Schiff was uncomfortable with much of what he has seen floated, especially the lack of a 2001 repeal. “If you don’t sunset that” he said, “any sunset you put in a new authorization is pretty meaningless because any president can rely on the 2001 authority to claim they have all they need.”

Oxford Advanced Learnner's Dectionary at hand defines 'sunset' simply as a noun meaning 1.(u) the time when the sun goes down and night begins. 2. (c) the colours in the part of the sky where the sun slowly goes down in the evening.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the case of the word “sunset” being used in tandem in the form of both verb and noun in a line in this way.

Is it common to use “sunset” as a verb to mean (as I take it) “to repeal” or “put something to an end” in this way? What does “sunset” exactly mean here?

  • 4
    @kris. I checked other dictionaries as a hindsight. Oxford Concise English Dictionary contains definition 3. as a North American usage:(as modifier) denoting a clause or provision under which an agency or progrmme is to be disbanded or terminated at the end of a fixed period unless it is formally renewed. Anyway it doesn't seem to be the word everybody uses casually in daily talk.
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Feb 26 '15 at 6:49
  • One familiar with the context of the sentence is expected to be familiar with the term and its usage. :) It's serious business, not casual, daily talk, you see.
    – Kris
    Feb 26 '15 at 6:52
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    I can't see this post receiving any "new" answers that might bring to light other nuances or insights into the meaning of sunset, I for one had no idea of its use in legal jargon and would have looked it up in a dictionary.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 26 '15 at 8:40
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    I learnt that a similar question was posed on the sunset of a civil act in 2005 by Kiamialuno in February 2011. I don’t object closing this question. But I think this question will serve for the users who weren’t aware of the particular usage of this word and also the alerted 4-year ago question. 8 up-votes and 1,000+ views at present tell there are many users who aren't aware of the previous question. I’m also relieved to know that it’s no wonder for me not to know the legal meaning of sunset when even a veteran EL&U user of 336k wasn’t very sure of jargonistic usage of this word.
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Feb 26 '15 at 22:21

It is a legal term, and it is used to refer to the expiration (an end) to a legal act ( law, provisions etc):

Sunset :

  • (Law) The automatic expiration of a statutory provision on a previously established date, in the absence of reauthorization:
    • The law's sunset was July 1.

To sunset ( v.int.):

  • To provide for the expiration of (a program or agency) by means of a sunset provision.


Sunset clause or sunset provision :

  • (mainly US & Canadian) a provision of a law that it will automatically be terminated after a fixed period unless it is extended by law. ( Collins)!

Ngram shows that the expression Sunset Law can be traced back to the end of the 19th century and that it became more common usage from the 70s.

Sunset Law:

a law which will be discontinued, a law which will be eliminated, a statute which automatically ends, a statute which automatically terminates, a statute which expires, a statute which will cease, ending law, exxiring law, statute with a fixed lifespan, terminating law

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    We also use the term in Information Technology. The meaning is the same but is applied to technology solutions.
    – user111966
    Feb 26 '15 at 21:22

From Wiktionary:

(business, politics, transitive) To phase out.

It does mean to put something to an end, but not immediately. Just like how a sunset, the end of a day, isn't sudden.

And the noun being used here means "the act of sunsetting".

These usages are somewhat law-speak or business-speak, which could explain why it's not in the dictionary you used.

  • Not immediately, but it can be sudden; often, a law will expire at a given point exactly.
    – user4683
    Feb 26 '15 at 15:44
  • @Poldie: I think the point is that the law's expiration is expected; everyone knows it will end at a specific point and plans accordingly.
    – Kevin
    Feb 26 '15 at 19:17

It means "to [plan to] bring something to an end"; I've only noticed it being used in discussions about political acts / laws.

"In public policy, a sunset provision or clause is a measure within a statute, regulation or other law that provides that the law shall cease to have effect after a specific date, unless further legislative action is taken to extend the law."


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