Noel Canning: Does It All Depend On What The Meaning Of “The” Is?

In Noel Canning v. NLRB (Jan. 25, 2013), the D.C. Circuit held that President Obama’s January 4, 2012 recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board were constitutionally invalid because the Senate was in an intrasession adjournment at the time. The court held that only a period of intersession adjournment constitutes “the Recess” of the Senate within the meaning of the Recess Appointments Clause.

The court has been the subject of some justifiable criticism (see Professors Garrett Epps here and Eric Posner here) for its emphasis on the fact that the RAC refers to “the Recess,” rather than “a Recess.” In the court’s estimation, this fact leads to the “inescapable conclusion” the Framers intended “something specific” by “the Recess.” The court concludes that the Framers must have used “the Recess” to mean something narrower and more specific than any break in the proceedings. It contrasts the Constitution’s use of “the Recess,” which appears only in the RAC and the Senate Vacancies Clause, with its use of the terms “adjourn” and “adjournment” to signify any break in proceedings.

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