WASHINGTON, January 26 (RIA Novosti) - A US federal appeals court on Friday ruled that President Barack Obama violated the US Constitution by appointing three people to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last year, a decision that could have far-reaching implications for hundreds of decisions made by the board.
Obama made the three appointments to NLRB, a federal agency charged with safeguarding employees’ rights to unionize and combatting unfair labor practices, while the US Senate was on a 20-day holiday break last January.
But the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled Friday that the appointments were unconstitutional because they were made while the Senate was officially still in session.
“Considering the text, history and structure of the Constitution, these appointments were invalid from their inception,” Judge David Sentelle wrote in issuing the three-judge panel’s opinion.
The ruling was widely seen as an embarrassment to Obama, and it could impact his efforts to fill other vacancies without Senate approval.
It also opens the door to the possibility that more than 200 NLRB decisions handed down since the appointments were made could be overturned.
The White House did not say Friday whether it plans to appeal the decision.
“The decision is novel and unprecedented,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
“It contradicts 150 years of practice by Democratic and Republican administrations. So we respectfully but strongly disagree with the rulings,” he added.
The question at the heart of the dispute is: When is a break just a break, and when is it a recess?
The Obama administration argued that the long Senate break constituted a recess, which under the US Constitution gives the president the power to bypass the Senate to make appointments.
Republicans, meanwhile, argued that the Senate was technically in session because it was formally opened and closed every couple of days in order to establish so-called “pro forma” sessions—a tactic commonly used to prevent recess appointments by the White House.
“Today’s ruling reaffirms that the Constitution is above political party or agenda, despite what the Obama administration seems to think,” Republican Sen. Orin Hatch said in a statement Friday.
Democrats said Republicans had used a variety of tactics to prevent nominees to the NLRB from being confirmed, effectively crippling the board’s legal authority.
“Today’s circuit court decision is not only a radical departure from precedent, it ignores the fact that President Obama had no choice but to act,” Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.