Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously ruled that President Barack Obama’s appointments of three members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 2012 were invalid because they were made when the Senate was in session.
Obama made the appointments invoking his executive powers on grounds that the Senate was in recess for holding only pro-forma sessions every three days. The court, however, upheld last year’s ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the recess appointments were invalid.
The justices were divided as to when the president should exercise the power to fill vacant government positions. Majority said three days of none-session by the Senate is not a recess. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority’s opinion that 10 days constitute a recess and that the president cannot make a recess appointments without Senate confirmation when the chamber says it is in session. Siding with Breyer were Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Four conservative justices, including Justice Antonin Scalia, wanted a president’s recess appointments power to be limited, because the Senate always can be called back into session to confirm nominees. Scalia was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
Breyer disagreed because that would render illegitimate thousands of recess appointments reaching all the way back to the founding era.
The Supreme Court ruling was for the case NLRB v. Noel Canning, No. 12-1281. The Yakima, Washington-based soft drink bottling and distribution company questioned in 2012 the validity of the appointments of three NLRB board members. The agency sided with the company’s union workers in a dispute over a new labor contract in 2010 and Noel Canning sought to invalidate the ruling on grounds that the NLRB board had no quorum because three board members’ appointments were illegal.
When the appeals court ruled in favor of Noel Canning, White House asked the Supreme Court to void the ruling.
The White House was disappointed and pleased at the same time with the Supreme Court’s ruling. With the court’s recognition of the recess appointment power of the president, Obama intends to use the executive authority to help middle income families, according to Press Secretary John Earnest.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell hailed the ruling against what he called presidential power grab.