It’s sad commentary on our current political state that the Obama Administration must be reminded that the Senate has to actually be in recess for it to attempt a “recess” appointment. One would expect a former law professor to possess a better working knowledge of the Constitution, but alas.
In a welcome and important ruling this morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – effectively the nation’s second-highest court – held that the Obama Administration acted illegally when it attempted to place three new members on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) without Senate consent. Under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, a President may appoint “Officers of the United States” subject to “Advice and Consent of the Senate.” It adds, however, that, “The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”
Here’s the problem. In a scheme to avoid confirmation hearings and votes, Obama attempted to place three members on the NLRB while “the Senate was operating pursuant to a unanimous consent agreement, which provided that the Senate would meet in pro forma sessions every three business days from December 20, 2011, through January 23, 2012.” Thus, the Senate wasn’t in “recess.” In fact, other acts by the Obama Administration acknowledge that fact. As just one example, that period is when the reduced payroll tax was extended with Obama’s approval.
Accordingly, the Court didn’t take kindly to Obama’s maneuver:
An interpretation of ‘the Recess’ that permits the President to decide when the Senate is in recess would demolish the checks and balances inherent in the advice-and-consent requirement, giving the President free rein to appoint his desired nominees at any time he pleases, whether that time be a weekend, lunch, or even when the Senate is in session and he is merely displeased with its inaction. This cannot be the law.”
This is a humiliating rebuke for Obama, and it invalidates all NLRB actions dependent upon those illegal appointments. Moreover, it effectively invalidates actions by other administrative agencies similarly dependent upon such appointments. The concept of “a nation of laws, and not of men” has been vindicated today.