D.C. Circuit Declares President Obama’s NLRB Recess Appointments Unconstitutional


On January 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by President Obama in January 2012 during a purported Senate recess were unconstitutional, and vacated an order of the NLRB as constituted with those improperly appointed members. Noel Canning v. NLRB, No. 12-1115, slip. op (D.C. Cir. Jan. 25, 2013). The court, making a distinction between recesses generally and “the Recess” as used in the Constitution, held that the President can only make recess appointments during intersession recesses, and not during intrasession recesses. The court explained that the President’s NLRB appointments were made during an intrasession recess, as the Senate was operating pursuant to a unanimous consent agreement that provided it would meet in pro forma sessions. Moreover, the court held that the President may only fill vacancies that arise or begin during such intersession recesses, as opposed to vacancies that happen to exist during such recesses. The court determined that the vacancies at issue here existed well before the recess. The court held that the appointments were constitutionally “invalid from their inception” and therefore the NLRB lacked a quorum to issue the NLRB order challenged on appeal. The court vacated the NLRB’s order at issue. The President appointed CFPB Director Richard Cordray as a recess appointment on the same day the President appointed the NLRB members. Mr. Cordray’s appointment is the subject of a lawsuit currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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