TAHLEQUAH — The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing cases last October. Although decisions could take until late June, here are some key cases to watch:
1. President Recess Appointments: National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning.
In answering whether President Obama had the authority to make so-called “recess appointments” of people to the National Labor Relations Board during “pro forma” sessions of the Senate in which no business was to be conducted in January 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held that he did not.
In a broad ruling, the judges said that the Constitution’s “recess appointment” clause — which allows presidents to fill vacancies temporarily that otherwise would need Senate approval during Senate recesses — only applies to the “intersession” recess between sessions of Congress and not “intrasession recesses” taken during a session of Congress. Although that opinion could have found against Obama’s decision on a more limited reasoning that the Senate was not actually recessed during a time when it held “pro forma” sessions, the D.C. Circuit issued the broader reasoning in its ruling.
The justices took the case and, if the D.C. Circuit’s reasoning becomes the law of the land, could create a significant change in the way nomination battles are fought in D.C.
2. Campaign Finance “Aggregat” Limits: McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Justices will consider whether “aggregate” limits faced by political donors are constitutional. Beyond the normal contribution limits, the aggregate limits — $48,600 to candidate committees and $74,600 to non-candidate committees like political parties — are limits on overall contributions to any federal candidates or non-candidate committees within an election cycle.
The Federal Election Commission argues that there has been a different standard applied to contributions than to campaign expenditures since the Supreme Court upheld the post-Watergate federal campaign finance law. Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee, with support from campaign finance restriction foe Sen. Mitch McConnell, say that distinction should be tossed out by the court or, at least, should nonetheless mean the aggregate limit is unconstitutional.
A broad array of groups has argued in support of the limits, and Public Campaign released a report showing how eliminating the limits would, primarily, benefit wealthy, white men. In the shadow of Citizens United, though, supporters of campaign finance restrictions are nervous. As law professor Rick Hasen has written, given the other members of the court, “Liberals have to hope [Chief Justice John] Roberts will show some restraint.”