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Supreme Court Invalidates 3 Obama Recess Appointments


In Washington yesterday, the Supreme Court limited the president's authority to make appointments when the Senate is gone. The justices unanimously ruled that the temporary appointment's President Obama made to the National Labors Relations Board in 2012 were unconstitutional because the Senate was technically still there, not in recessed. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, the decision was a victory for Republicans but it won't have much impact so long as Democrats remain in the Senate majority.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Senate Republicans rejoiced over Thursday's Supreme Court decision with a collectively, we told you so. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said the ruling buttressed what they'd been saying all along - President Obama has gotten used to overstepping his bounds.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: It represents a clear, clear rebuke to the president's brazen power grab.

SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY: The biggest rebuke of any president since 1974, when it ordered President Nixon to produce the Watergate tapes.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: This unanimous Supreme Court decision should say to the president that our founders, at least most of them, didn't want a king.

CHANG: The Constitution lets the president fill vacancies without Senate approval during congressional recesses. In this case President Obama made three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012, after he had been denied a vote on the nominees. The Senate wasn't in town but every three days it was convening what are called pro-forma sessions. The chamber was all but deserted and no business was actually conducted during those sessions. So the White House decided the Senate was in recess. But the court said no, the pro forma sessions were frequent enough to mean the Senate hadn't recessed. Grassley said all of this procedure should have been obvious to the president.

GRASSLEY: I'm a little surprised because at one time he was Senator Oback Obama - Barack Obama

CHANG: Democrats say the other side can gloat all it wants because the decision doesn't actually make a difference now. Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois pointed out, last fall that Senate changed the filibuster rules, so now nominations can get through with a simple majority vote.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Clearly we had to change the rules to move this along. There's a concerted effort to stop the president from putting together his team to govern and we have to do our part.

CHANG: Of course if Republicans take over the majority next year that rules change won't help Obama anymore. And so long as the Senate holds pro-forma session, he can't rely on recess appointments either. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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