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Supreme Court Rules Against Obama On Recess Appointments

Court strikes down three appointments as unconstitutional

(Photo credit: Mark Fischer/Flickr/Creative Commons)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down three of President Barack Obama's recess appointments, ruling that he violated the constitution by filling temporary vacancies when the Senate was still in session.

The unanimous 9-0 ruling backed Senate Republicans and will limit Obama's ability to make future appointments.

Although the decision was unanimous, the court was split 5-4 over the extent of the president's power to make recess appointments altogether. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the ruling risks allowing the selection privilege to become "a weapon to be wielded by future Presidents against future Senates," while Justice Stephen Breyer stated that going any further in limiting the president's power in filling vacancies could disrupt "centuries of history" of traditional practice.


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Obama previously argued that the Senate intentionally tried to obstruct his attempts to make recess appointments, having three-day "brief sessions" during an extended break and creating a resolution that no business would be conducted during that time. The court rejected his argument, stating that the presidential power to make recess appointments only applies to breaks that take place after the end of a full Congressional session and before the start of a new one, rather than those that take place mid-year.

"We must give weight to the Senate's own determination of when it is and is not in session," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the court's decision. A recess of less than 10 days is "presumptively too short" to allow for presidential appointments.

The Senate confirmed all three of the selections, so the ruling will not have any immediate effect. However, it could be felt in the near future, as midterm elections may result in a Republican-majority Senate and NLRB appointments expire in 2018.


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