The Solicitor General of the United States, on behalf of the NLRB, has filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court, asking the Court to settle the dispute among the Circuit Courts as to whether the NLRB is authorized to render decisions with only two members in office.  The District of Columbia Circuit in Laurel Baye Healthcare v. NLRB this past May had held that the Board lacked such authority. Three other circuits, however, have reached an opposite conclusion (the First, Second and Seventh Circuits, in Boston, New York and Chicago, respectively). The Board in Laurel Baye, and employers in each of the other cases, petitioned the Court for a writ of certiorari to review the particular Circuit Court opinion.

The Board on September 29 asked the Court to determine whether National Labor Relations Act authorizes the agency to act when only two of its five positions are filled, if the Board previously delegated its full powers to a three-member group that included the two remaining members. On the same day, the NLRB responded to the petition in the Seventh Circuit case — New Process Steel — asking the Justices to grant review there, too, on the same issue.

Since January 2008, the Board has been functioning with only two members, Chairman Wilma Liebman and Member Peter Schaumber. Shortly before, four members, including two recess appointments about to expire, delegated the Board’s powers to a three-member panel; when  Board membership shrank to two, the agency said the NLRA allowed it to operate in that fashion. (Despite professing to carry on its duties as usual, the two-member Board may have been hedging its bets until an undisputed quorum again is present.  Students of the agency have suggested there may have been fewer decisions, and those often are in “soft,” non-controversial cases. In a number of instances, one member or the other has suppressed disagreement with Board precedent “for institutional reasons,” we have been told.)

President Barack Obama has nominated three candidates, including Craig Becker, to fill the empty seats on the Board.  These nominees are awaiting confirmation by the Senate.

In view of the clear conflict among Circuits and the Board’s and the employers’ desire to have the quorum issue settled, not to mention the Second Circuit’s observation that the High Court will have to have the last word on this subject, many believe the Supreme Court will grant certiorari. The Court begins its new Term October 5.

We will keep you posted.