Let’s get ready to Rumble!
by Playthell Benjamin
On the High Court, Minorities and Organized Labor
Although the press boisterously proclaims the recent Supreme Court decision is a defeat for President Obama, it is actually another defeat for the American people dealt by the Robert’s court, especially for minorities and the working class in general. Reduced to its fundamental significance it makes it possible for the Republicans, or any opposition party, to virtually veto presidential appointments by never adjourning for ten days even if the senate is not conducting any formal business.
By virtue of the changes in the Senate rules initiated by the majority of Democrats who now control the Senate, under the enlightened leadership of Senator Harry Reid, adopting a procedure that allows presidential appointments with a simple majority vote, this reckless ruling will have little effect. The case that brought the issue of the limits of executive power before the Supreme Court was filed by Noel Canning, a soft drink bottling company, who protested a decision by the National Labor Relations Board that found them in violation of collective bargaining laws.
Canning argued that the NLRB’s ruling was invalid by virtue of the fact that it did not have the necessary quorum legally required to make such judgments, because the board members appointed by President Obama were unconstitutionally installed. The High Court ruled unanimously in Canning’s favor, and declared the president had exceeded his constitutional authority.
Fortunately, despite the fact that this ruling is potentially disastrous for organized labor, its consequences will be minimized due to the fact that of the present five board members three are Democrats. However the 465 decisions handed down by the board during the period the Supreme Court now says it was illegally constituted stand in danger of being re-litigated, which could throw the critically important work of the Labor Relations Board into chaos. Such a state of affairs would greatly benefit the corporate class and wreak havoc on organized labor – a boon for the plutocrats and a bust for the working class.
In this sense the ruling was characteristic of decisions by the Robert’s Court. Although this ruling was sparked by a labor dispute, its implications are far reaching. It goes to the heart of the American approach to popular constitutional democracy, calling into question whether the time honored system of checks and balances, the “three fold division of power,” can promote efficient government in a polity which is fractured into extreme ideological parties.
The ruling addressed the fundamental question of the constitutional power of the President to make interim appointments while the senate is in recess. It is a model of legal reasoning, arriving at a consensus on the intent of the Constitution by a close reading of the text and weighing that against historical precedent. Hence while virtually all legal scholars agree that the ruling is a defeat for President Obama that could plague future presidents and make it nearly impossible to govern this complex nation effectively, it does not negate the right of the President to make interim appointments. The Devil is in the details alas.
The question presidents will have to satisfy in the future is what constitutes a congressional recess and how long must the Senate be out of session before the President can justifiably invoke this power of interim appointments. The justices, who ruled unanimously, appear to agree that the Senate must be out for a minimum of 10 days, and a quorum of Republican Senators met every 6 days although they conducted no business.
President Obama, who recognized this as a charade designed to prevent him from making important appointments because the Republicans had ideological differences with his choices, appointed members to the NLRB so that they would have enough members as required by law to make decisions on matters of critical importance to working Americans. However the Court held that even if President Obama’s claims of Republican obstructionism prove true, it is not sufficient grounds to ignore the constitutional restraints on executive powers.
While one cannot credibly argue that the Court’s decision is part of the Republican plot to cripple this President because of the unanimity of the Justices opinion, it will nevertheless strengthen those forces who do seek to cripple President Obama.
When added to the Citizens United Decision giving plutocrats the right to spend unlimited money to elect candidates they favor; the neutering of the Voter Rights Act; the lowering of protections for women seeking legal abortions, and the ruling earlier today barring public unions from compelling Home Care Workers to pay dues despite they work on a unionized job and enjoy the benefits of a unionized worksite, and the gutting of Affirmative Action programs combine to work against the interests of all women, the working class in general and Afro-Americans in particular.
Since this decision supplies fuel for the political arsonists in the Republican Party who accuse President Obama of conducting himself like a King and overstepping his constitutional authority – when he is merely trying to govern – and would love to find cause to initiate an impeachment proceeding, the question of whether or not this decision regarding the limits on presidential power is part of a right-wing conspiracy to cripple President Obama’s presidency is a moot point… because it is a distinction without a difference.
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.