A successful legal challenge by Yakima’s Noel Canning Co. has cast doubts on hundreds of National Labor Relation Board rulings of the past year and appears to narrow presidential authority to fill administration positions while the Senate is in recess.
The federal appeals court decision announced Friday grew out of an appeal the Yakima company filed challenging a NLRB decision that upheld a labor agreement with a union representing its employees.
An appeal in the case is considered likely and could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gary Lofland of Halvorson Northwest Law Group of Yakima, which represents Noel Canning Co., said his client is pleased with the decision by the Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia.
“This started last year when the president made appointments in a controversial manner to the National Labor Relations Board,” Lofland said Friday. “Because of these appointments, agencies like the NLRB operated under a cloud of uncertainty. This decision makes that cloud of uncertainty darker.”
A representative with the union local, based in Yakima, was not available for comment Friday.
The court’s ruling vacated the NLRB’s decision last February that upheld the contract between the company and Teamsters Local 760 of Yakima.
The case had been closely watched and drew friend-of-the-court briefs from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky. Business groups and other members of Congress also weighed in, applauding the decision.
“The court has rightly recognized the Senate’s important role in providing advice and consent on executive appointments. This decision has provided the Administration yet another opportunity to work with Congress and the business community to rehabilitate the battered NLRB,” said the National Retail Federation in a news release.
The issue in the case revolves around President Obama’s appointment of three members to the five-member labor board in January of last year during what the administration determined was a U.S. Senate recess. The appeals court, however, decided the Senate was technically in session under a procedural move in which one member gaveled the chamber into session every three days.
Noel Canning contended that based on those “pro forma” sessions, Obama’s appointments of three members were invalid, depriving the board of the required quorum to make decisions.
The Appeals Court decided in the company’s favor, agreeing the appointments were invalid and unconstitutional.
“Because the board lacked a quorum of three members when it issued its decision in this case on Feb. 8, 2012, its decision must be vacated,” the court ruled.
The case grew out of union negotiations that concluded in late 2010 with what the union thought was a final agreement. Union members voted to ratify the contract. But the company contended the ratification amounted to a counteroffer, which it rejected.
According to the court decision, the union then filed an unfair labor practice. An administrative law judge sided with the union and directed Noel Canning to sign the agreement. The National Labor Relations Board upheld the administrative law judge, leading to the appeal decided Friday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration strongly disagrees with the decision and that the labor board would continue to conduct business as usual, despite calls by some Republicans for the board members to resign.
“The decision is novel and unprecedented,” Carney said. “It contradicts 150 years of practice by Democratic and Republican administrations.”
Under the court’s decision, 285 recess appointments made by presidents between 1867 and 2004 would be invalid.
The Justice Department hinted that the administration would ask the Supreme Court to overturn the decision, which was rendered by three conservative judges appointed by Republican presidents. “We disagree with the court’s ruling and believe that the president’s recess appointments are constitutionally sound,” the statement said.
• Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.