California Labor &
Employment Law Blog

Jun. 26 2014

Supreme Court Rules That Obama’s 2012 Recess Appointments to the NLRB Are Invalid

Topics: Court Decisions, Union-Management Relations

Today the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in NLRB v. Noel Canning, voiding President Obama’s 2012 recess appointments to the NLRB on the ground that the appointments exceeded the President’s constitutional authority.  In so holding, the Court affirmed the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision last year in the case.  However, the Court did not agree with the D.C. Circuit Court’s reasoning.  The D.C. Circuit Court had held that the recess appointments were invalid because the Senate was not actually in “recess” at the time and that the recess appointment power only applies to inter-session recesses, and then, only to vacancies that arise during such a recess (as opposed to vacancies existing at the time the recess commences).  By contrast, the Supreme Court held that the recess appointment power applies both to inter-session and intra-session recesses and is not limited to vacancies that arise during a recess.  However, the Court held that the recess must be of a sufficient length to trigger the recess appointment power.  The Court held that the break in the legislative session must be at least 10 or more days in order for recess appointments to be authorized.  In the case of the 2012 NLRB recess appointments, the appointments were made during a period when the Senate was convening every three days for pro forma sessions when no business was actually conducted.  The Court held:  “Three days is too short a time to bring a recess within the scope of the clause.  Thus we conclude that the president lacked the power to make the recess appointments here at issue.”

The Court’s voiding of the NLRB appointments invalidates many NLRB decisions and actions in which the 2012 recess appointees participated.  It is unclear how the NLRB with proceed as to the many affected matters.  However, NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce issued the following statement today:

“The Supreme Court has today decided the Noel Canning case.  We are analyzing the impact that the Court’s decision has on Board cases in which the January 2012 recess appointees participated.  Today, the National Labor Relations Board has a full contingent of five Senate-confirmed members who are prepared to fulfill our responsibility to enforce the National Labor Relations Act.  The Agency is committed to resolving any cases affected by today’s decision as expeditiously as possible.”

The Court’s full opinion in Noel Canning is available here.

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About the Editor

Robin Largent represents employers, including major food and retail companies, in all types of employment litigation: wrongful termination, retaliation, breach of contract, wage and hour (California Labor Code) and unfair competition. She also regularly counsels and advises California employers on issues of compliance with California and federal employment laws.
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