[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday in NLRB v. Noel Canning [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that US President Barack Obama overstepped his authority when he appointed [JURIST report] three members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) [official website] in January 2012. In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court held that while the president does have authority to make appointments during a recess of the Senate, these particular appointments were unconstitutional because the Senate’s recess was punctuated by pro forma sessions, during which no business was transacted. Breyer wrote for the court:
The third question concerns calculation of the length of a “recess.” … In calculating the length of a recess are we to ignore the pro forma sessions, thereby treating the series of brief recesses as a single, month-long recess? We conclude that we cannot ignore these pro forma sessions. Our answer to the third question means that, when the appointments before us took place, the Senate was in the midst of a 3-day recess. Three days is too short a time to bring a recess within the scope of the Clause. Thus we conclude that the President lacked the power to make the recess appointments here at issue.
Justice Antonin Scalia filed a concurring opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Scalia argued that the majority’s opinion was too narrow: “The Court’s decision transforms the recess-appointment power from a tool carefully designed to fill a narrow and specific need into a weapon to be wielded by future Presidents against future Senates.”
The court heard arguments in the case in January after agreeing to rule on the issue [JURIST reports] last June. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in January 2013 that Obama’s recess appointment of three members of the NLRB was unconstitutional, and the government appealed [JURIST reports]. Thursday’s ruling renders the decisions of the NLRB invalid since the appointments.