A U.S. appeals court dealt a blow Friday to President Barack Obama, ruling he violated the constitution when he made recess appointments to fill administration vacancies.
The decision focuses on the validity of three appointments to the National Labor Relations Board that were made on Jan. 4 last year. But it could have broader implications for presidential power in the appointment process.
A new congressional session had begun the day before the 2012 appointments but, adhering to tradition, the senators left town for the holidays, although they were available to potentially act on appointments if need be.
Obama had argued that his appointments were appropriate because the Senate was in a holiday recess. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared that the Senate had technically remained open in pro forma session, in which a lone member can gavel in and then immediately gavel out.
The White House had consistently claimed such sessions were aimed at retaining the ability to block presidential appointments without Senate approval, but the court said the pro forma sessions were valid.
The White House denounced the ruling as “novel and unprecedented.”
“It contradicts 150 years of practice by Democratic and Republican administrations,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. Congressional research shows more than 280 intrasession recess appointments by Democratic and Republican administrations dating back to 1867.