President Barack Obama on Saturday invoked his power to make appointments while the Senate is in recess, clearing the way for lesbian law professor Chai Feldblum to join the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In a controversial move, Obama used his recess appointment powers to put in office Feldblum and 14 others he nominated to key government positions but whose confirmation was being blocked by Republican senators.
Senate rules allow one senator to place an indefinite hold on a presidential appointment that requires Senate confirmation. Earlier this month, one or more unidentified senators placed a hold on Feldblum, a nationally recognized gay rights attorney, and four other EEOC nominees.
“The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees,” Obama said in a statement. “But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis.”
The president was referring to an interpretation of the Constitution that presidents can make appointments when the Senate is in recess only through the end of the congressional period in which the appointment is made. In this case, the recess appointments of Feldblum and others are expected to last through the 111th Congress, which ends Dec. 31.
If the Senate doesn’t vote to confirm the appointments by that time, the appointees would have to step aside until a Senate vote to confirm them occurs.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions approved Feldblum’s nomination in December.
During a confirmation hearing in November, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the committee chair, asked Feldblum about her views on polygamy. He noted that groups opposed to her nomination pointed out that she signed a controversial gay rights manifesto in 2006 that, among other things, endorsed LGBT families headed by adults in polygamous relationships.
“I do not support polygamy,” Feldblum said at the hearing. “I am sorry I signed that document and I have asked that my name be removed.”
LGBT activists have speculated that anti-gay groups opposing her nomination, such as Focus on the Family and the Traditional Values Coalition, may have persuaded one or more GOP senators to place the hold on Feldblum’s nomination.
She currently serves as a law professor at Georgetown University’s School of Law and has been credited with playing a key role in drafting and helping push through Congress in the 1990s the Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes protections for people with HIV/AIDS.
The EEOC serves as the federal government’s enforcement agency for federal anti-discrimination laws involving employment. The office would play a key role in enforcing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which calls for banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.