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Court appears ready to nix recess appointment power

The Supreme Court appeared poised Monday to eliminate a president's power to make temporary "recess appointments" to positions that typically require Senate confirmation -- at least when the White House and the Senate are controlled by opposite parties. 

The case -- for which the court heard oral arguments today -- stems from President Barack Obama's decision to make such appointments in January 2012, after Republicans had blocked votes on his appointees to the National Labor Relations Board.

The Constitution states that the president has the power “to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate.”

But opponents argued that the body wasn’t technically in recess when Obama made the appointments; instead, they were in a “pro-forma” session that happens when almost all lawmakers are out of town. Lower courts have agreed, saying the president overstepped his power.

Most of the Supreme Court justices appeared Monday to agree that the Senate – not the president – has the last word on whether or not it is in recess.

That means the White House could find itself on the losing end of the argument after the court’s decision later this year.

Last year, Senate Democrats forced a change to Senate rules that allowed most presidential nominees to advance with a simple majority rather than having to overcome a 60-vote threshold, so – for now – Obama will not need to use recess appointments to push his picks through the Senate.

But the high court’s ruling would impact future presidents’ attempts to get controversial nominees approved when their party does not control the upper chamber.