WASHINGTON: The US President, Barack Obama, violated the constitution by making appointments to the National Labour Relations Board without Senate approval, a US court said in a ruling that called into question hundreds of board decisions, which could extend to the head of the new consumer finance agency.
The US Court of Appeals in Washington sided with Republican MPs in a unanimous opinion on Friday. The court held that Mr Obama's recess appointments to the board last year, made after Republicans refused to consider his nominees, were ''constitutionally invalid'' because the Senate was not in recess at the time.
''Allowing the President to define the scope of his own appointments power would eviscerate the constitution's separation of powers,'' the US Circuit Judge David Sentelle wrote in a 46-page opinion, one that might be cited in challenges to recess appointments made throughout the federal government, and possibly upending a longstanding presidential practice.
In the near-term, the ruling might be used to undo more than 200 decisions made over the past year by the NLRB, the nation's industrial relations arbitrator, as well as regulations by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose director, Richard Cordray, was named at the same time as the labour board members.
The White House said the ruling would not affect Mr Cordray and was restricted to the agency at issue. Republicans, meanwhile, demanded the NLRB appointees quit immediately.
The future of recess appointments, as used by past presidents, was now in doubt, the White House counsel under Republican President George H.W. Bush, C. Boyden Gray, said.
''The take-away is that the President doesn't have the authority to decide when a recess exists so he can make an appointment whenever he feels like it,'' Mr Gray said.
In recent years, Democratic President Bill Clinton made 139 recess appointments, Republican President George W. Bush 171 and Mr Obama 32, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The appeals court ruling came via a case brought by a soda bottling company over an NLRB decision in a collective bargaining agreement. The company argued that a recess only occurred in the period between one session of Congress and the next, not when members were simply absent and the Senate had not adjourned.
The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, called the decision ''novel and unprecedented'' and that it contradicted 150 years of practice by Democratic and Republican administrations.
Hundreds of recess appointments were made dating back to 1867 during so-called intra-sessions, he said.
The ruling also conflicted with decisions by three other federal appeals courts regarding the scope of the President's recess appointment authority, according to an administration official who requested anonymity in discussing the case before the Justice Department decided whether to appeal.
The government might seek a rehearing by the three-judge panel that made Friday's ruling, or seek a so-called en banc review by a larger panel of circuit judges. It might also move to ask the US Supreme Court to take up the matter.