Friday, May 17, 2013

Third Circuit Holds Obama Recess Appointment Unconstitutional - COTW #143

In Noel Canning v. NLRB the D.C. Circuit held that President Obama's "recess" appointments to the NLRB were unconstitutional. For a rundown of the implications of this holding, see here. I warned you that the Third Circuit was also looking at this issue also. Well guess what?

Yesterday, the Third Circuit dropped the hammer. In New Vista Nursing v. NLRB, the Third Circuit became the second federal appellate court to hold that the Constitution's recess appointments clause allows only intersession (not intrasession) recess appointments. Therefore, President Obama's NLRB "recess" appointments were unconstitutional - and the NLRB doesn't have enough members to officially operate (see New Process Steel).

If you want to read the 102-page opinion (and 55-page dissent), knock yourself out. Volokh Conspiracy's John Elwood has a nice post on the decision, including:
The majority thought context was more helpful, particularly “the Recess Appointment Clause’s specification that recess-appointed officers’ terms ‘shall expire at the End of [the Senate’s] next session.’” It reasoned, “[t]he expiration of these officers’ terms at the end of the next session implies that their appointments were made during a period between sessions,” id. at 75, and “if recess includes intrasession breaks, then we would expect the recess-appointment term to last only until the end of that session.” The majority then addressed historical practice, Id. at 87-95, reaching essentially the same conclusion as the D.C. Circuit: the absence of Founding-era intrasession recess appointments suggests the power does not extend that far.
Employers and employees could already choose to appeal NLRB decisions to the D.C. Circuit (or their "home circuit"). For parties in the Third Circuit, both routes now lead to the same place: the NLRB is powerless.

This decision also places even more pressure on the Supreme Court to take Noel Canning and decide the scope of the president's recess appointments power. I suspect a major SCOTUS ruling next year . . . .