The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a case that, at its heart, is a question of semantics: When is a Senate recess actually a Senate recess? Stemming from a January 2012 Obama appointment of three officials to the National Labor Relations Board, the case of NLRB v. Noel Canning could now to stand to jeopardize months of work by the agency -- and potentially many other administrative decisions of the distant past and uncertain future.
The Constitution gives the president the ability to make appointments without Senate approval when the Senate is out of session. The goal is obvious: If the Senate were on an extended break and the president needed a secretary of Defense, for example, Article II, Section 2 gives the president the ability to name one. It reads:
The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.
Pretty straightforward. Except that how and when Congress is on recess can be surprisingly subjective.