WASHINGTON, June 26 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday decided to limit the powers of the presidency, ruling decisively that President Barack Obama violated the Constitution by going around the Senate to make three major appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 2012.
But the majority opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer did not go further and strike down most other methods by which presidents fill key jobs when the Senate is in recess.
While the ruling as it affects Obama's appointments was unanimous, four conservative justices would have applied the restriction far more broadly.
Instead, the court stopped short of limiting such appointments to remote periods and circumstances, as a federal appeals court had ruled last year. Still, it nullified actions Obama took while the Senate was holding "pro-forma" sessions every three days for the specific purpose of preventing such executive actions.
"Because the Senate was in session during its pro-forma sessions, the president made the recess appointments before us during a break too short to count as recess," Breyer said. "For that reason, the appointments are invalid."
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the remaining four justices that a president's recess appointments power should be limited far more than the court allowed, because the Senate always can be called back into session to confirm nominees.
In 2012, Obama named three members to NLRB and the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while the Senate was gaveling in and out every 72 hours, usually without conducting any business.
Obama argued that the Senate, for all intents and purposes, was in recess. Under the Constitution, presidents can fill vacancies during recesses for up to two years without Senate confirmation.
Anyway, the high court's ruling means that hundreds of decisions made by the labor board while dominated by Obama's recess appointees in 2012 and half of 2013 will be called into question.
According to the Congress statistics, Ronald Reagan made 232 recess appointments during his eight years in office. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush each made well more than 100. In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt made more than 160 recess appointments during one short break between congressional sessions.
To date, Obama has made only 32 recess appointments. But in this case, he did so to get around the Senate's intransigence rather than its absence -- something both liberal and conservative justices frowned upon during oral arguments in January.