The court unanimously ruled on Thursday that President Obama exceeded his constitutional authority in appointing officials to the National Labor Relations Board in 2012 when he declared the Senate to be in recess.
At that time, the Senate was holding pro forma sessions — convening but conducting no business — every three days precisely to prevent the president from making the appointments.
Justice Stephen Breyer said in his majority opinion that a congressional break has to last at least 10 days to be considered a recess under the Constitution.
But Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for himself, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, said he would have upheld the reasoning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
That court said the only recess recognized by the Constitution is the once-a-year break between sessions of Congress — and that only vacancies that arise during that recess could be filled.
There may be few immediate practical effects of the ruling, given the recent overhaul of the Senate’s filibuster rules.
But "the decision was nonetheless momentous, involving a constitutional adjudication of the balance of power between the president and the Senate," says The New York Times.