by Ann C. Hodges, Professor of Law, University of Richmond
When faced with drastic changes to its own rules, the Senate apparently can reach a compromise. A Democratic threat to use the so-called nuclear option to change the filibuster rules caused Republicans to agree to cease blocking a vote on President Obama’s nominees to various agencies, including the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Department of Labor.
This compromise, reached July 16, will enable an up or down vote on the package of five nominees for the NLRB. As a part of the agreement, the president consented not to re-nominate the two current recess appointees to the Board. Instead, the president has nominated two experienced labor attorneys, Nancy Schiffer, who recently retired from her position as Associate General Counsel for the AFL-CIO, and Kent Hirozawa, who is on the staff of current Board Chair Mark Gaston Pearce. President Obama previously re-nominated Pearce, whose term expires in August, and nominated two attorneys with long careers representing management, Philip A. Miscimarra and Harry I. Johnson. Thus the package contains the traditional three members from the president’s party and two from the opposing party.
Hearings are scheduled on the nominations and the agreement raises hope that the Board members will be confirmed before Board Chair Pearce’s term expires in late August, when the agency would once again be unable to act because of the absence of quorum. The four blocked nominees to other agencies have already been confirmed. The actions of Republican senators on the NLRB nominees were part of a pattern of obstructing the president’s nominees. Blocking the NLRB nominees was particularly egregious, however, because the NLRB members, unlike the EPA Administrator and Labor Secretary, serve a judicial function and cannot act without a quorum.