This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the federal government’s challenge to a January 2013 decision by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) made by President Obama in January 2012 during a purported Senate recess were unconstitutional. NLRB V. Noel Canning, No. 12-1281. Last month, the Third Circuit similarly invalidated a different NLRB recess appointment made by President Obama.
CFPB Director Richard Cordray was appointed in the same manner and on the same day as the NLRB members, and his appointment is the subject of a lawsuit currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Mr. Cordray, whose recess appointment is due to expire at the end of this year, was re-nominated by President Obama this year to serve a full term as director, but his confirmation is being held up in the Senate. All but two Senate Republicans have pledged to oppose Mr. Cordray for the position unless oversight of the CFPB is altered, including by changing its governance structure to a commission structure.
In its review, the Supreme Court will address two questions presented by the government, as well as a third the Court added. The government’s petition asked the court to determine (i) whether the President’s recess appointment power may be exercised during a recess that occurs within a session of the Senate, or is instead limited to recesses that occur between enumerated sessions and (ii) whether the President’s recess appointment power may be exercised to fill vacancies that exist during a recess, or is instead limited to vacancies that first arose during that recess. The Court also signaled its intent to address the issue of Senate pro forma sessions with a question it added – whether the President’s recess appointment power may be exercised when the Senate is convening every three days in pro forma sessions. The Court is likely to hear the case in the fall and issue its opinion next year.