DEVELOPING: Federal Court rules that Obama recess appointments are unconstitutional.

blog insert Jan 25

DEVELOPING: Federal Court rules that Obama recess appointments are unconstitutional.

By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Friday, January 25, 2013

In a case freighted with major constitutional implications, a federal appeals court on Friday overturned President Obama’s controversial recess appointments from last year, ruling he abused his powers and acted when the Senate was not actually in a recess.

The three-judge panel’s ruling is a major blow to Mr. Obama. The judges ruled that the appointments Mr. Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board are illegal, and the board no longer has a quorum to operate.

But the ruling has even broader constitutional significance, with the judges arguing that the president’s recess appointment powers don’t apply to “intrasession” appointments — those made when Congress has left town for a few days or weeks.

The judges signaled the power only applies after Congress has adjourned sine die, which is a legislative term of art that signals the end to a long work period. In modern times, it means the president could only use his powers when Congress quits business at the end of a year.

“The dearth of intrasession appointments in the years and decades following the ratification of the Constitution speaks far more impressively than the history of recent presidential exercise of a supposed power to make such appointments,” the judges wrote.

“Recent presidents are doing no more than interpreting the Constitution. While we recognize that all branches of government must of necessity exercise their understanding of the Constitution in order to perform their duties faithfully thereto, ultimately it is our role to discern the authoritative meaning of the supreme law.”

The case is likely to end up before the Supreme Court, and it turns on the definition of what the Constitution means when it says “recess.”

Last January Mr. Obama named union lawyer Richard Griffin and Labor Department official Sharon Block, both Democrats, and a Republican, NLRB lawyer Terence Flynn, to the labor board using his recess powers. He also named Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, using those same powers.

Noel Canning, a bottling company, sued the NLRB, arguing that a rule issued by the new board was illegal since the recess appointments were unconstitutional. Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, joined in the suit.

The appeals court panel, which sits in Washington, D.C., was skeptical of Mr. Obama’s case during oral argument in early December, with Chief Judge David B. Sentelle and Judge Thomas B. Griffith peppering the administration lawyers with questions.

The Constitution gives the president the power to nominate judges and executive branch officials, but the Senate must vote to confirm them before they take office. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the president powers “to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate.”

Those powers have produced centuries of give-and-take, with senators regularly slow-walking nominees and the White House looking for ways to get its way — including the recess appointment.

Mr. Obama’s move, though, appeared to break new ground by acting at a time when the Senate was meeting every third day, specifically to deny him the chance to make appointments.

The problem is the word “recess” has several meanings in legislative-speak. It can mean a short break during the day, it can mean a break of days or weeks for a holiday, or it can mean the end of a yearly session.

The president argued that even though the Senate was convening every three days, the pro forma sessions didn’t allow any business, and nearly every senator was absent from the chamber, signaling that the Senate wasn’t able to perform its confirmation duties and should be considered essentially in recess.

The appeals court panel, which sits in Washington, D.C., was skeptical of Mr. Obama’s case during oral argument in early December, with Chief Judge David B. Sentelle and Judge Thomas B. Griffith peppering the administration lawyers with questions.

The Constitution gives the president the power to nominate judges and executive branch officials, but the Senate must vote to confirm them before they take office. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the president powers “to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate.”

Those powers have produced centuries of give-and-take, with senators regularly slow-walking nominees and the White House looking for ways to get its nominees in place — including the recess appointment.

Mr. Obama’s move, though, appeared to break new ground by acting at a time when the Senate was meeting every third day — specifically to deny him the chance to make recess appointments.

The problem is the word “recess” has several meanings in legislative-speak. It can mean a short break during the day, it can mean a break of days or weeks for a holiday, or it can mean the end of a yearly session.

The president argued that even though the Senate was convening every three days, the pro forma sessions didn’t allow any business, and nearly every senator was absent from the chamber, signaling that the Senate wasn’t able to perform its confirmation duties and should be considered essentially in recess.

His opponents had warned that if Mr. Obama’s stance prevailed, then presidents could make appointments when the Senate takes its recess for weekly party caucus lunches.

The judges on Friday ruled that the only clear bright line is when the Senate recesses at the end of the year.

Victor K. Williams, an assistant professor at Catholic University School of Law who filed briefs arguing that the court should reject the case as a political question between Congress and the president, called the judges’ ruling “historically wrong.”

“This panel of the D.C. circuit has accomplished what Minority Leader Mitch McConnell failed to do. Minority Leader McConnell said that his No. 1 objective was defeating Barack Obama and Barack Obama’s attempt to govern. This D.C. circuit panel has been successful where McConnell failed. They have really, effectively challenged the president’s ability to govern,” Mr. Williams said.

The judges’ ruling puts them at odds with several other federal appeals courts that have ruled the other way. And another case is making its way through the D.C. circuit and could be heard by another three-judge panel.

Mr. Williams said the Justice Department faces an interesting choice: It could allow those other cases to work their way through the rest of the courts, or it could appeal immediately to the Supreme Court.

The administration could also ask the full D.C. circuit to re-hear the case.

3 thoughts on “DEVELOPING: Federal Court rules that Obama recess appointments are unconstitutional.

  1. I am shocked … You mean we really still have the constitution and it’s still recognised, implemented, respected and uphold. Wow! Amazing!!

  2. Please let me know if you’re looking for a writer for your weblog. You have some really good articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d
    absolutely love to write some content for your blog in exchange for a link back to
    mine. Please shoot me an e-mail if interested. Many thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.