A powerful business group’s decision to use its legal firepower to back a bottling company in a dispute with unionised workers turned a routine labour tussle in Washington state into a high-stakes Supreme Court case that could limit the ability of US presidents to make appointments to critical jobs.
The case began as a complaint in December 2010 by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 760 accusing Noel Canning Corp’s owner, Rodger Noel, of reneging on a verbal agreement concerning a new collective bargaining agreement.
But after the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sided with the workers, the US Chamber of Commerce intervened on behalf of the company and elevated the importance of the case by putting the focus on whether President Barack Obama had exceeded his authority in appointing members of the board.
The high court is set to hear longer than usual 90-minute oral argument in the case on Monday on the constitutional issue of a president’s capacity to fill senior government posts without the usual Senate confirmation at a time when the 100-member body is in a recess.
Presidents of both parties have made many such “recess appointments” to install officials who otherwise would have had a hard time winning Senate confirmation.
The chamber calls itself the world’s largest business organization, representing more than 3 million US businesses.
It has a reputation as a formidable legal advocate for business interests. It often participates in challenges to government regulations on behalf of all its members and regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs in the US Supreme Court and, increasingly, in other courts.
In the Supreme Court’s 2012-2013 term, the chamber won a favorable outcome in 14 of the 18 cases in which it filed friend-of-the-court briefs. The Noel Canning case marks the first time the chamber has directly represented a member before the high court’s justices.