In a statement Thursday in reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling on the Noel Canning v. Nation Labor Relations Board case, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that the ruling itself didn't matter much now that the Senate has changed its filibuster rules.
He had a point.
"The impact of today’s ruling is far less than it might have been, because there is now a full complement of Senate-confirmed members of the NLRB and a Senate-confirmed NLRB general counsel. We are confident the NLRB will handle the pending cases impacted by Noel Canning efficiently and expeditiously," Trumka said.
The court's ruling means that cases decided by the labor-law enforcement agency board from January 2012 through the following January -- estimated by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation at 1,058 -- are now voided because the NLRB lacked a proper quorum at the time. The nine unanimously found that three of the White House's recess appointments to the board were invalid because the Senate was not in recess at the time.
That's a lot of cases by a board that was widely viewed as strongly pro-labor. All of the cases will now have to be re-litigated, a lengthy process. In effect, Big Labor lost a year.
The ruling's impact was lessened, though, when the Senate Republicans agreed last July to allow a full slate of five of President Obama's nominees to the NLRB as part of a deal to avert a change in the chamber's filibuster rules. Big Labor had leaned hard on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to confront the GOP over the NLRB vacancies.
Reid then went ahead and eliminated the Senate filibuster for most presidential nominations anyway in November, ensuring that a minority of 40 lawmakers cannot prevent a vote.
The two actions effectively addressed the two major issues at the heart of the case: whether the NLRB had a working quorum and whether the president can get his appointees considered by the Senate.
The Supreme Court's ruling does settle some of the constitutional issues surrounding presidential appointments as well as the validity of the disputed NLRB's rulings. But the things that Big Labor really wanted, it already has.