US top court limits presidential appointment powers

June 27, 2014 - 1:22:12 pm

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court reined in presidential power yesterday, ruling that President Barack Obama went too far when he filled senior government posts without seeking US Senate approval, but the justices stopped short of a more sweeping decision limiting executive authority.

In a ruling that will constrain future presidents, the court held on a 9-0 vote that the three appointments Obama made to the US National Labour Relations Board in 2012 were unlawful. The decision limits the ability of presidents to make so-called recess appointments without Senate approval.

Although the court was unanimous on the outcome, the nine justices were divided 5-4 on the legal reasoning. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a fiery opinion, joined by his conservative colleagues, saying he would have gone further in limiting the recess appointment power. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined liberal colleagues in the majority.

The ruling comes at a time of partisan political fighting in Congress between Republicans and Obama. Republicans have fought virtually every major Obama initiative since he took office in 2009 and they have accused the Democratic president of overstepping his constitutional authority.

The Supreme Court upheld the president’s power to make recess appointments in between Senate sessions or recesses during a legislative session.

Its narrow ruling said only there is no recess when the Senate holds so-called pro-forma sessions during which no business is conducted but the Senate is not formally adjourned. Yesterday’s majority decision, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, could especially hamper the Obama administration if Republicans  win control of the Senate in November 4 elections. They already control the House of Representatives.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling but noted that the decision “does preserve some important elements of the president’s executive authority, and he will not hesitate to use it”.

The ruling has little immediate impact because Democrats, who currently control the Senate, pushed through a rule change in November 2013 that made it harder for Republicans to block the president’s nominees. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, said the ruling “underscores the importance” of the Senate rule change last year. “Without that reform and with today’s ruling, a small but vocal minority would have more power than ever to block qualified nominees from getting a simple up-or-down vote,” he said.