With Congress frozen in gridlock, President Obama has increasingly looked for ways to circumvent the legislature. One of Obama’s most frequently used tactics was recess appointments. These appointments allowed Obama to get key people into appointed offices without requiring Congressional approval.

Barack Obama

The Supreme Court, however, has ruled that Obama was exceeding his authority when he appointed three people to the National Labor Relations board. This board is one of the more contentious boards as members have the power to mediate disputes between employers and employees. Republicans were seeking to essentially shut the board down for the year by refusing to confirm anyone to an appointment.

The Supreme Court ruled that the President could not appoint people without Senate approval during pro forma. These are sessions that are held, but during which no work is done. The Senate and Congress can choose to hold such pro forma sessions when they want to essentially go on recess, but don’t want to ask the other chamber for permission.

The Obama administration argued that during these pro forma sessions that Congress was essentially in recess and thus he should be able to appoint people. The Supreme Court rejected this ruling, upholding rulings from lower courts.

Supreme Court refused to curb Obama’s power further

The Supreme Court voted to curb Obama’s power but in a 5-4 vote refused to essentially eliminate the President’s ability to appoint people during recess. This essentially over turned a ruling made by a lower court which severely restricted Obama’s ability to appoint people during recess.

A lower court ruled that the only recess that should be recognized is the once-a-year break between sessions of Congress. If this had been upheld, future Presidents would have found their power to appoint people in recess greatly restricted. The majority opinion noted that recess appointments created a delicate balance that must be protected.

Ruling calls into question decisions made by board

Beyond curbing the President’s power, the ruling will also challenge the legitimacy of the 436 decisions made by the board between January of 2012 and July of 2013. Some of these decisions could turn to to be very important. For example, one decision protected employees from being fired over complaining about working conditions on Facebook. Another decision granted unions more more in disciplinary procedures.

Employers will now be able to challenge the legitimacy of these rulings and quite possibly have them thrown out. Many of these issues will likely have to be re-examined by the National Labor Relations board at a later point in time. For now, however, most analysts are citing this as a small victory for employers.