The Constitution provides that the Senate must approve certain appointments to executive
offices. If the Senate is in recess, the presidential appointment goes through on a temporary basis.
In January 2012, President Obama made three "recess appointments" to the National Labor Relations Board, which rules on union-management disputes.
But the Senate was not in recess. Senate and House Republicans had refused to adjourn, and the Senate was holding pro forma sessions.
Within days, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington declared the appointments invalid, but instead of withdrawing the nominations in compliance with the decision, the Obama administration went forward.
Now, 14 months later, with the standing of three board members in doubt, the board has made hundreds of decisions of questionable legality.
That's bad news for Dave Preast, 61, who thought the labor board had settled a longtime dispute between Massey Energy (now Alpha Natural Resources) and himself and 84 co-workers over union representation at Mammoth Coal Co.'s mine at Cannelton.
The board ruled in September that the company had to offer them jobs and give them back pay to 2004 - roughly eight years of wages.
But because the board was tainted by these unconstitutional appointments, Preast and his co-workers remain in limbo over their jobs.
"I was hoping it would be settled quickly and we could go on with what we had," Preast told Bloomberg News. "Eight years, nine years have passed. It's a lifetime for us. Here I'm almost an old man."
The president's contempt for checks on his power has made life harder both for employers in a job-hungry environment and for workers like Dave Preast.
This is not an acceptable way for the federal government to work.