The ruling is a blow to Executive Branch power, but could have been more sweeping:
The Supreme Court dealt a blow to the powers of the presidency Thursday, ruling decisively that President Obama violated the Constitution by going around the Senate to name key labor and financial watchdogs.
Resolving a longstanding battle between the two other branches of government, the justices declared invalid key “recess appointments” made by Obama in 2012 when the Senate was holding only pro-forma sessions every three days.
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 unavailable. 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.
“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.” He was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.