WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama violated the Constitution when he bypassed the Senate last year to appoint three members of the National Labor Relations Board, a federal appeals court ruled Friday in a far-reaching decision that could severely limit a chief executive’s powers to make recess appointments.
The court’s decision marked a victory for Republicans and business groups critical of the agency. If it stands, it could invalidate hundreds of board decisions over the past year, including some that make it easier for unions to organize.
The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that contrary to the administration’s claim, the Senate was not in recess at the time Obama filled the vacancies on Jan. 4, 2012.
It also held that presidents have the authority to bypass the Senate in filling vacancies only when they occur during a recess, which it said occurs only between the end of the first year of a two-year Congress and when lawmakers convene for the second year.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration strongly disagrees with the decision and that the NLRB would continue to conduct business as usual, despite calls by some Republicans for the board members to resign.
“The decision is novel and unprecedented,” Carney said. “It contradicts 150 years of practice by Democratic and Republican administrations.”
Under the court’s decision, 285 recess appointments made by presidents between 1867 and 2004 would be invalid.
The Justice Department hinted that the administration would ask the Supreme Court to overturn the decision, which was rendered by three conservative judges appointed by Republican presidents. “We disagree with the court’s ruling and believe that the president’s recess appointments are constitutionally sound,” the statement said.
The court acknowledged that the ruling conflicts with what some other federal appeals courts have held about when recess appointments are valid, which only added to the likelihood of an appeal to the high court.
The ruling also threw into question the legitimacy of Obama’s recess appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Carney insisted the court’s ruling affects only a single case before the labor board and would have no bearing on Cordray’s appointment. Obama on Thursday renominated Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, for the job.