Supreme Court Curbs President’s Power to Make Recess Appointments

6/26/14
 
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from The New York Times,
6/26/14:

The Supreme Court on Thursday dealt a significant blow to executive power, cutting back on the president’s power to issue recess appointments during brief breaks in the Senate’s work.

The court ruled unanimously that President Obama had violated the Constitution in 2012 by appointing officials to the National Labor Relations Board during a short break in the Senate’s work when the chamber was convening every three days in pro forma sessions. Those breaks were too short, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote in a majority opinion joined by the court’s four more liberal members.

Still, Mr. Obama and the presidents who will succeed him avoided a far broader loss, one that could have limited recess appointments to breaks between Congress’s formal annual sessions and even then to vacancies that arose during those breaks. That was the approach embraced by the court’s four more conservative members.

Justice Antonin Scalia issued a caustic statement from the bench. “The majority practically bends over backwards to ensure that recess appointments will remain a powerful weapon in the president’s arsenal,” he said.

The immediate practical significance of Thursday’s decision was undercut by the Senate’s recent overhaul of its filibuster rules and by the Senate’s confirmation of a different slate of nominees to the labor board. Republican filibusters had frustrated the Obama administration and prompted its recess appointments.

But the constitutional ruling, involving the balance of power between the president and the Senate, was nonetheless momentous.

The Constitution’s recess-appointments clause says, “The president shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate.”

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