In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court today ruled that recess appointments made by President Obama while the Senate was holding "pro-forma" sessions but otherwise on a short break overreached his constitutional authority.
"Because the Senate was in session during its pro forma sessions, the president made the recess appointments before us during a break too short to count as recess," Justice Stephen Breyer said. "For that reason, the appointments are invalid."
The Constitution allows presidents to make "recess appointments" for two years while the Senate is out on recess. Arguing that the Senate was indeed on recess in 2012 — and frustrated that he couldn't get his nominees confirmed — Obama named three members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and also named the first director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Pepsi bottler Noel Canning of Yakima, Wash., subsequently contested in court a decision by the NLRB, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the board lacked authority because three members had been appointed unconstitutionally. NLRB v. Canning eventually made its way to the Supreme Court for review, and the ruling today is the result.
All of Obama's 2012 appointees were later confirmed when renominated and Senate Democrats went "nuclear" and changed the filibuster rules for appointments. They also used their new authority to confirm nominations to the D.C. Court of Appeals to make it more friendly to the left.