As the House of Representatives moves forward with plans to sue President Obama for failing “to faithfully execute the laws of the United States as provided by Article II, Section III of the U.S. Constitution,” the administration suffered a secondary slap on the wrist from the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously today that Obama lacked constitutional authority to make high-level government appointments at a time he declared the Senate to be in recess and unable to act on the nominations.
From the Washington Post:
Obama made appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012 at a time when the Senate was holding pro forma sessions every three days precisely to thwart the president’s ability to exercise the power.
“When the Senate declares that it is in session and possesses the capacity, under its own rules, to conduct business,” that is sufficient from keeping the president to make recess appointments, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the court.
The court was interpreting the Constitution’s Recess Clause, which says the president “shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate.”
While the court was in unanimous agreement that Obama had acted unlawfully, liberals on the bench said they were uniformly loath to check the power of the executive branch. On this issue, Breyer wrote:
That broader reading is reinforced by centuries of history, which we are hesitant to disturb.
The conservative dissenters, he went on to say “would render illegitimate thousands of recess appointments reaching all the way back to the founding era.”
Speaking for conservatives on the panel, Justice Antonin Scalia read a statement that accused his colleagues of “judicial adventurism”:
This issue has been the subject of a long-simmering interbranch conflict that we ought to resolve according to our best lights, rather than by deferring to an overreaching Executive Branch.
Today’s ruling is the final word in a case the administration had vigorously defended for more than two years. In Jaunary 2013, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that Obama’s so-called “recess” appointments were invalid. In May of that year, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.