Two years ago President Barack Obama decided to appoint three new members to the National Labor Relations Board, even though none of them could clear the U.S. Senate.
Blocked from getting what he wanted, President Obama installed the nominees anyway, arguing that the Senate was on recess; a move allowed under the U.S. Constitution’s Recess Appointments Clause.
There was just one little problem. The Senate had not recessed.
Republicans in the chamber anticipated Obama’s move and negotiated an agreement with majority Democrats to keep the Senate open every three days during the Christmas and New Year’s break in order to conduct business. Thus, as far as the Senate’s own records are concerned, the body never went on recess. By refusing to give its consent, the chamber, in effect, told Obama to nominate three new people.
The fight now is before the Supreme Court, which today heard oral arguments from the Obama administration and counsel representing 45 members of the Senate Republican caucus, among others.
While there are a host of arcane and at times interesting constitutional questions to consider this particular case boils down to whether the Court thinks the President or the Senate has the final say as to when the Senate is in session.
The answer should seem obvious, but don’t underestimate the Court’s ability to choose wrongly.
Victory for President Obama in this suit would be a body blow to the Constitution. The Senate’s ‘advise and consent’ role is designed to ensure that only those qualified for high governmental service actually serve in such posts. Yes, the confirmation process is political, but that’s the name of the game when one is a political appointee. Sometimes you lose.
Once again, we have an instance where President Obama, unwilling to compromise, is trying to impose his will by fiat, constitutional processes be damned.
The Court’s ruling is expected in late June. For the good of the republic, it should find a way to rein in an out-of-control executive.