Q: What’s significant about the recent ruling on the President’s use of recess appointments?
A: The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a definitive rebuke of President Obama for misusing authority delegated by the Constitution. The unanimous decision affirms fundamental constitutional boundaries that give an important reality check to the presidency.
The Founders purposefully crafted the separation of powers, dividing authority among the executive, legislative and judicial branches to create an accountable system of checks and balances to curb government overreach. Ignoring more than two centuries of precedent, the President unilaterally filled vacancies at the National Labor Relations Board shortly after the New Year in 2012.
The Supreme Court this summer struck down the calculated move that illegally circumvented the legislative branch by installing the positions without Senate approval. Despite twice making an oath to uphold the Constitution and faithfully execute the laws as President of the United States, this President recklessly and lawlessly thumbed his nose at Article 2, Section 2 of the Constitution. It provides for only two ways in which Presidents may make appointments to public offices that require congressional consent. In the first case, it authorizes the President to nominate and the U.S. Senate to give its advice and consent. In the second case, it permits temporary appointments when the Senate is in recess. But in this case, the President flouted the rule of law, overstepping his authority to secure the vacancies as he saw fit. Although the ruling doesn’t take away the possibility of recess appointments, it does prevent presidents from unilaterally violating the constitutional clause as a political tool to get their way.
Q: What was at stake in the case brought before the Supreme Court?
A: The separation of powers and our system of checks and balances hung in the balance. Thankfully, the unanimous ruling recalibrated the President’s unconstitutional power grab. The high court caught up with the President’s high-handed move, limiting future attempts to steamroll how the Senate conducts the people’s business. Let’s hope this teaches that the Constitution does not delegate imperial authority, nor permit the President to sidestep Congress with the use of a pen and a phone either. Consider a legal scholar who testified before Congress this year that “we are in the midst of a constitutional crisis.” Jonathan Turley, an inside-the-beltway law professor whose policy and political views align closely with the President’s, testified there has been a “massive gravitational shift of authority to the Executive Branch that threatens the stability and functionality” of our system of government and that President Obama has accelerated this shift at an alarming rate. Through executive overreach, he says the President in a number of circumstances effectively has rewritten laws passed by Congress and testified, “there is no license in our system to act” as the President has pledged to act ‘with or without Congress.’
Q: What signal should this send to the administration?
A: The separation of powers is not an optional theory of our system of self-government. It is an explicit framework that preserves freedom and liberty and protects our rights and representation. When nine Supreme Court Justices see eye to eye on a matter of constitutional law, the message ought to ring loud and clear. There’s a difference between advancing an agenda and operating above the law. Picking and choosing which federal drug, sentencing, immigration, environmental and health care laws to enforce based on a political calculus lacks as much moral authority to lead as failing to root out systemic flaws in the IRS or the Department of Veterans Affairs. Targeting taxpayers based on political views or letting down the men and women who served our country in uniform reflect a troublesome pattern of misplaced priorities and ineffective leadership. Let’s hope the recent Supreme Court ruling serves as a wake-up call to the White House to follow the rule of law, not operate above it.