Third Circuit Joins DC Circuit In Invalidating NLRB Recess Appointment

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On May 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that an appointment to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by President Obama in March 2010 during a purported Senate recess was unconstitutional and vacated orders of the NLRB as constituted with the improperly appointed member. NLRB v. New Vista Nursing & Rehab., No. 11-3440, 2013 WL 2099742 (3rd Cir. May 16, 2013). The NLRB member appointment at issue in this case precedes the appointments at issue in Noel Canning, which appointments were made during the same pro forma Senate session in which President Obama appointed CFPB Director Richard Cordray. The D.C. Circuit’s opinion invalidating those appointments currently is on appeal to the Supreme Court. Here, as explained in the majority opinion and as in Noel Canning, the central question is the meaning of “the Recess of the Senate.” The court concluded that “the Recess of the Senate” in the Recess Appointments Clause refers to only intersession breaks, held that the NLRB panel lacked the requisite number of members to exercise its authority because one panel member was invalidly appointed during an intrasession break, and vacated the Board‘s orders. In a dissenting opinion, one judge argued that the majority holding undoes an appointments process that has successfully operated for over 220 years, and the court instead should have held that “the Recess” refers to both intrasession and intersession recesses because the Senate can be unavailable to provide advice and consent during both. The Third Circuit did not address whether 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.