01 July 2014

Law in Plain English: National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogNational Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning

Photo from
Noel Corporation.
Argument: Jan 13 2014 (Aud.)

Background: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) found that Noel Canning violated section 8(a)(1) and (5) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) by refusing to reduce to writing and execute a collective bargaining agreement reached with Teamsters Local 760 (the Union). Noel Canning appealed, alleging that the Board lacked authority to act for want of a quorum, as three members of the five-member Board were never validly appointed because they took office under recess appointments which were made when the Senate was not in recess. Second, it asserts that the vacancies these three members purportedly filled did not "happen during the Recess of the Senate," as required for recess appointments by the Constitution. The D.C. Circuit ruled that the Board issuing the findings and order could not lawfully act, as it did not have a quorum.

Issue: The questions before the Court are (1) 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 of the Senate, and (2) 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.

Holding:  In a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Recess Appointments Clause authorizes the president to fill any existing vacancy during any recess – whether occurring during or between sessions of Congress – of sufficient length. For purposes of the clause, the Senate is in session whenever it indicates that it is, as long as – under its own rules – it retains the capacity to transact Senate business.
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