The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 27, 2013

Our View: Liberty's unsteady branches


The Joplin Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — On Jan. 4, 2012, President Barack Obama appointed three people to fill vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board.

Frustrated by Senate Republicans blocking his choices, Obama used his interpretation of “recess appointment” power to bypass the Senate and seated the three on his own authority.

The explanation was that previous presidents had done it. (Over 300 alone by the two previous). Obama was just doing the same.

Except these appointments were not the same. These were made while the Senate was still in a technical “pro-forma” session. (Ironically, a tactic started by Sen. Harry Reid to block then President George W. Bush’s recess appointments.)

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found it an overreach and ruled that the president did not have the authority he had assumed.

In writing for the unanimous court, Chief Judge David Sentelle wrote that to side with the Obama interpretation “the president could make appointments any time the Senate so much as broke for lunch” and that “Allowing the president to define the scope of his own appointment power would eviscerate the Constitution’s separation of powers.”

And it is that last statement that far too many presidents fail to grasp.

The Oval Office is not a “palace of power,” but rather just one “piece of power” — a piece intentionally founded to be checked and rechecked by its co-equal branches.

 The real danger a president risks when climbing out onto the limb of executive power is not the embarrassing fall when it breaks. It is the inevitable scar left behind on the trunk of the law while out on that limb.

Over the past year the NLRB has made dozens of rulings affecting millions of lives. Each one is now shrouded in uncertainty and most likely to be invalidated.

The Founders envisioned a rowdy House, a deliberative Senate and a respectful presidency. Follow that vision and Thomas Jefferson’s tree of liberty flourishes and fills. Ignore it and we’re left with but a bare and dying trunk.