Under the Appointments Clause, the President is empowered to nominate and appoint principal officers of the United States, but only with the advice and consent of the Senate. In addition to this general appointment authority, the Recess Appointments Clause permits the President to make temporary appointments, without Senate approval, during periods in which the Senate is not in session. On January 4, 2012, while the Senate was holding periodic “pro forma” sessions, President Obama invoked his recess appointment power and unilaterally appointed Richard Cordray as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Terrence F. Flynn, Sharon Block, and Richard F. Griffin Jr. as Members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The President’s recess appointments were ultimately challenged by parties affected by actions taken by the appointed officials, and on January 25, 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) became the first court to evaluate the merits of the President’s appointments. In a broad decision entitled Noel Canning v. National Labor Relations Board, the court invalidated the appointment of all three NLRB Board Members. In reaching its decision, the D.C. Circuit concluded that under the Recess Appointments Clause, the President may only make recess appointments during a formal intersession recess (a recess between the end of one session of Congress and the start of another), and only to fill those vacancies that arose during the intersession recess in which the appointment was made.
Although the D.C. Circuit’s actual order in Noel Canning directly applies only to the NLRB’s authority to undertake the single action at issue in the case, the court’s interpretation of the President’s recess appointment authority could have a substantial impact on the future division of power between the President and Congress in the filling of vacancies. If affirmed by the Supreme Court, the likely effect of the reasoning adopted in Noel Canning would be a shift toward increased Senate control over the appointment of government officials and a decrease in the frequency of presidential recess appointments.In class, we noted that Congress may try to curb judicial influence by "court-stripping" or "jurisdiction-stripping," that is, by passing laws taking certain issues out of the judiciary's hands. The courts can, however, hold those laws to be unconstitutional. A key recent example is Boumediene v. Bush (553 U.S. 723 (2008)).