A second slam against President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board has pundits talking not just about the appointments, but about the overall impact on the notion of recess appointments altogether.
The decision Thursday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in NLRB v. New Vista Nursing and Rehabilitation is the second decision by a circuit court to hold that intracession recess appointments (those made during a recess within a session) violate the Recess Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
As this alert from Ballard Spahr points out, in the earlier ruling in Noel Canning v. NLRB, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit concluded Obama acted unconstitutionally when he made three recess appointments to the NLRB. As Ballard Spahr noted previously, ”if upheld by the Supreme Court — which is considering the NLRB’s petition for certiorari [or the high court's review] — Noel v. Canning will invalidate the hundreds of board decisions in which the three appointees participated,” its latest alert states.
One issue at stake in this most recent New Vista ruling is the legitimacy (make that the illegitimacy) of the appointment of former NLRB board member Craig Becker, who was appointed during an intrasession recess of the Senate and was part of the panel that ruled against New Vista. At the Third Circuit, says the Ballard Spahr alert, “essentially adopting the reasoning of Noel Canning, a divided panel concluded that the words ‘the Recess’ in the RAC refers only to an intercession [between-sessions] recess of Congress … .”
Michael Lotito, employment attorney and co-chair of San Francisco-based Littler’s Workplace Policy Institute, cites what you might call the crux of the ruling in this comment on a LinkedIn group site: “Footnote 22 beginning on page 61 [of the New Vista ruling] sums it up: The president could not do what he did. The recess appointments are toast.” (Look it up in my link above.)
For additional background on all this, including case synposes, here is Morgan Lewis’ take, as posted on the National Law Review website, and here is my latest post on this blog, with links to past posts explaining the controversy around Noel Canning. Also, though the NLRB has not issued a statement about this latest ruling on its website, it does provide this link to a video and opening statements “for the May 16, 2013, Senate committee hearing on pending nominations to the National Labor Relations Board.”
As for the implications of the two rulings, Morgan Lewis paints a pretty clear picture:
The Third Circuit’s decision, particularly when paired with Noel Canning, is far-reaching and critically important, particularly for employers involved in [NLRB] proceedings since March 2010. The invalidation of Becker’s appointment also affects a number of board actions during that time, including the ‘quickie’ election rules — providing for a much faster [union] election process — and the decision in D.R. Horton — invalidating class and collective-action waivers in employment-arbitration agreements. The Third Circuit and the D.C. Circuit have drawn a roadmap for challenging the validity of three years’ worth of board decisions and are now the likely forums of choice for such challenges.”
More succinctly, as this release on the Hot Air site puts it, the rulings have “the potential, not just to mess with these appointments, but with the tradition of the recess appointment, more broadly.”