Appeals court panel rules Obama recess appointments to labor board are unconstitutional
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said Obama did not have the power to make three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board because the Senate was officially in session — and not in recess — at the time. If the decision stands, it could invalidate hundreds of board decisions made over the past year.
The White House had no immediate comment but is expected to appeal the decision. The same issue is currently before several other federal appeals courts.
The ruling also threw into question Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray’s appointment, also made on Jan. 4, 2012, has been challenged in a separate case.
The court’s decision is a victory for Republicans and business groups that have been attacking the labor board for issuing a series of decisions and rules that make it easier for the nation’s labor unions to organize new members.
“With this ruling, the D.C. Circuit has soundly rejected the Obama administration’s flimsy interpretation of the law, and (it) will go a long way toward restoring the constitutional separation of powers,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
GOP House Speaker John Boehner welcomed the ruling as “a victory for accountability in government.”
Obama made the recess appointments after Senate Republicans blocked his choices for an agency they contended was biased in favor of unions. Obama claims he acted properly because the Senate was away for the holidays on a 20-day recess. The Constitution allows for such appointments without Senate approval when Congress is in recess.
But during that time, GOP lawmakers argued, the Senate technically had stayed in session because it was gaveled in and out every few days for so-called pro forma sessions.
GOP lawmakers used the tactic — as Democrats had done in the past — specifically to prevent the president from using his recess power to install members to the labor board and the consumer board. They had also vigorously opposed the nomination of Cordray. The White House argued that the pro forma sessions — some lasting less than a minute — were a sham.
The three-judge panel, all appointed by Republican presidents, ruled that during one of those pro forma sessions on Jan. 3, the Senate officially convened its second session of the 112th Congress, as required by the Constitution.
“Either the Senate is in session or it is in recess,” Chief Judge David Sentelle wrote in the 46-page ruling. “If it has broken for three days within an ongoing session, it is not in ‘the Recess’ described in the Constitution.”