Senator Rubio of Florida is now one of the strongest contenders in the GOP for president. He is qualified and likeable and thus far has a clean record on ethics. One or more of Rubio’s Senate colleagues also might have a shot at the nomination. There are other good candidates as well. And Republicans, if they can get their act together, have a very good chance of electing a president in 2016.
One of the most important things a new president will do is appoint judges, the job that our current president has been trying to do for the past five years. The president will need the advice and consent of the Senate to make these appointments, but courts need judges, and presidents and senators have an obligation to make sure vacancies on courts are filled.
And the place where senators should care most about filling judicial vacancies should be their own home states. The interests of constituents in access to judges and justice should be a priority over playing partisan politics.
And this is why, until recently, it usually was not a problem for the Senate to allow home state senators an informal veto—implemented through the so called “blue slip” process—over confirmation of judges in their own states. Senators might try to block nominees from other states with filibusters and other tactics, but would protect their own constituents by working out a deal with the White House for nomination and confirmation of an acceptable nominee in their state.
Presidents have been making recess appointments since the founding; in fact President George Washington employed a recess appointment to name John Rutledge the Second Chief Justice of the United States, though his nomination was eventually defeated by the Senate. There has long been a political understanding which has governed recess appointments. In a recent ACS conference call, David Strauss, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law and ACS National Board of Directors member, noted that, for example, since the administration of President James Monroe, it has been understood that a vacancy need not arise during a congressional recess in order for it to be filled via a recess appointment. However, this political consensus may soon collapse as the Court fully examines the clause for the first time.
The case before the Court deals with the validity of a 2012 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision rendered by a panel made up of three members of the five-member Board. President Obama had appointed two of the three members to the Board via a recess appointment. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with Noel Canning (a division of the Noel Corporation) that the recess appointments to the NLRB were unconstitutional. During the recent ACS call, American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar Norman J. Ornstein called the D.C. Circuit’s decision a “breathtaking exercise of judicial activism.” On appeal, three questions are before the Court: whether a president’s recess appointment power is limited to inter-session recesses, or if it extends to intra-session recesses; whether a recess appointment can fill any vacancy, or if it is limited to those vacancies, which arose during the recess; and whether recess appointments can take place when the Senate is meeting every three days in pro-forma sessions, a practice that has become increasingly frequent in recent years as partisan rancor has escalated.
In March 2009, about a month after President George W. Bush and Dick Cheney left office, Scott Horton declared that “[w]e may not have realized it, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution.” Some of the most infamous of these memos were drafted by John Yoo, an Office of Legal Counsel attorney from 2001-2003. Yoo and others – most notably, Cheney’s counsel, David Addington – advanced the unitary executive theory, a theory of presidential power Cheney had personally favored for decades.
The unitary executive theory, as implemented by the Bush administration, was claimed to justify effectively unchecked presidential power over the use of military force, the detention and interrogation of prisoners, extraordinary rendition and intelligence gathering. According to the unitary executive theory, since the Constitution assigns the president all of “the executive power”, he can set aside laws that attempt to limit his power over national security. This is an enormous power: critics charge that it effectively places the president above the law. Advocates of broad presidential power argue it is necessary to defend the nation against the threat posed by terrorism.
by Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Editor’s Note: This Thursday, November 7, the ACS Pittsburgh Lawyer Chapter and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law Student Chapter will host a Supreme Court Preview featuring Professor Tushnet and Professor Jules Lobel of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. To hear more from Professors Tushnet and Lobel about Bond and the rest of the Court’s October Term 2013, please RSVP here.
The Roberts Court is properly described as a business-friendly Court. It’s also a Court that is sort of friendly toward federalism, as the commerce clause holding in the Affordable Care Act decision – though thankfully not the ultimate outcome – shows. But, federalism and business interests sometimes come into conflict. Businesses operating on a national scale often hope that Congress will preempt state regulations, so that they face only a single national rule rather than fifty or more regulations different in every state and sometimes in a bunch of cities. And, when Congress doesn’t make it clear that its statutes preempt state regulations, businesses want the Court to interpret federal statutes to be preemptive.
On Tuesday, the Court heard oral argument in Bond v. United States, a bizarre case on its facts that raises important questions about the scope of Congress’s power to enact statutes implementing treaties. The arguments suggested that some of the Court’s conservatives, and perhaps Justice Breyer, were inclined to say that Congress couldn’t use its power to implement treaties to reach truly local activities (although the precise formulation of the restriction they might adopt wasn’t clear).
Everyone seemed to agree, though, that the Bill of Rights limited the power to implement a treaty. And, whatever you might say about the treaty power and federalism, that does indeed seem to be a consensus position.
The consensus might be on a collision course with business interests, though, for the same reason that businesses sometimes favor preemption and national regulation over state regulation. In a forthcoming article in the Harvard Law Review, Marvin Ammori describes what he learned from general counsels at major commercial disseminators of information over the internet. For them, Ammori reports, Congress is basically just one state legislature or city council trying to regulate their activity along with a whole bunch of other legislatures – parliaments in France and Japan, and everywhere else. And, just as with preemption, these businesses might want to replace a system of lots of different regulations with one regulatory system.
by Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Editor’s Note: This Thursday, November 7, the ACS Pittsburgh Lawyer Chapter and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law Student Chapter will host a Supreme Court Preview featuring Professor Tushnet and Professor Jules Lobel of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. To hear more from Professors Tushnet and Lobel about Noel Canning and the rest of the Court’s October Term 2013, please RSVP here.
Courts of appeals panels with majorities appointed by Republican presidents have teed up a problem for the Supreme Court: Are the Court’s Republican appointees devotees of originalism or executive power – or, will they use originalism as an excuse for supporting executive power when the executive is a Republican but for opposing it when the executive is a Democrat?
National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning involves the president’s power to make recess appointments. Filibusters over nominations to the National Labor Relations Board had paralyzed the NLRB (aided and abetted by a Supreme Court decision holding that the NLRB couldn’t act through panels of fewer than three members), when Republicans in the Senate refused to go forward with nominations to fill three vacancies on the five-member board. Republican Senators also refused to allow a vote on the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because they opposed the Bureau’s existence (and by law, the Bureau’s powers were quite limited in the absence of an agency head). President Obama responded by seizing on a technical “recess” in the Senate – a series of days out of session punctuated by minutes-long “pro forma” sessions – as the basis for making recess appointments to the NLRB and the CFPB.
With its new “members” on board, the NLRB entered an order against Noel Canning, which appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that President Obama didn’t have the power to make the recess appointments because the recess appointment power allowed him to make appointments only when the Senate was between its major sessions – basically, between the adjournment of the House of Representatives pending an election and the new House’s convening. (A majority of the court of appeals also held that the recess appointment power extended only to vacancies that arose during that same period – not to vacancies that extended into a session of a sitting Congress.)