Supreme Court to hear case on Obama’s NLRB appointments

(Karen Bleier/AFP-Getty)
(Karen Bleier/AFP-Getty)

The Supreme Court will decide next term whether President Obama exceeded his constitutional authority by making three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board while the Senate was on break last year, according to a Washington Post article.

The court on Monday announced it would review an earlier decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that said presidents cannot make so-called “recess appointments” while senators are on intra-session break.

With Obama’s NLRB appointments, lawmakers had gone home, but the Senate was convening for pro forma sessions with one senator every three days — a tactic that Democrats and Republicans have used to prevent presidents from making recess appointments.

In this case, the White House reasoned that the Senate actually was in recess because it was not available to conduct business.

As Post Supreme Court report Bob Barnes stated it: “Obama has used the recess appointments power fairly modestly compared with recent predecessors. But he went where no other president had gone in his appointment of the three NLRB members and his appointment of Richard Cordray to head the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”

In a statement on Monday, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the NLRB, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to eventually settle the controversy.

“The decision the Court will review was not only a radical departure from precedent, but it ignored or summarily dismissed the legal analysis from three other federal appellate courts,” Harkin said. “The D.C. Circuit also turned a blind eye to history, ignoring that Democratic and Republican Presidents alike have made liberal use of intrasession recess appointments for years.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the committee’s ranking member, offered a different take on the situation in a statement Monday.

“It is good news for American workers and employers that the Supreme Court will rule on whether the Senate or the president decides when the Senate is in session,” Alexander said. “In the meantime, the Senate should pass my bill to stop the National Labor Relations Board from issuing more decisions and creating more workplace uncertainty until the Supreme Court has reached a decision.”

Alexander has proposed legislation that would prohibit the NLRB from taking action requiring a quorum until the Senate has approved a full slate of board members, the Supreme Court issues a decision on the constitutionality of the president’s controversial appointments, or the first session of the 113th Congress is adjourned.

An identical companion bill sponsored by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) passed the House on April 12.

To connect with Josh Hicks, follow his Twitter feed, friend his Facebook page or e-mail josh.hicks@washpost.comFor more federal news, visit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks | June 24, 2013