• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ruled that the president could not remove members of independent regulatory commissions on policy grounds before their terms had expired.

In Myers v. United States[case]Myers v. United States[Myers v. United States] (1926), the Supreme Court upheld the authority of the president to remove a postmaster before his term had expired. A dictum (statement of opinion or belief) in the opinion suggested that the president would also have power to remove officials within the independent regulatory agencies. William Humphrey, a conservative Republican, was appointed in 1931 to serve a seven-year term on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC Act authorized the president to remove a commissioner only for inefficiency, malfeasance, or neglect of duty. Nevertheless, when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president, he fired Humphrey in order to replace him with a supporter of New Deal policies.Presidential powers;Humphrey’s Executor v. United States[Humphrey’s Executor v. United States]Separation of powers;Humphrey’s Executor v. United States[Humphrey’s Executor v. United States]

By a 9-0 vote, the Court held that Roosevelt had exceeded his powers. Justice George Sutherland’sSutherland, George;Humphrey’s Executor v. United States[Humphrey’s Executor v. United States] opinion for the Court reasoned that Congress possessed the authority to create regulatory agencies with quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial functions, designed to act independently of executive interference. That authority included the power to fix a term of office because the commissioners could not act independently if they served at the pleasure of the president. The ruling narrowed the Myers precedent so that the president had only “the unrestrictable power” to remove executive officials performing purely executive functions.

Although controversial at the time, the Humphrey’s Executor decision remains good law. In Wiener v. United States[case]Wiener v. United States[Wiener v. United States] (1958), the Court held that the president could not remove a member of a regulatory commission unless explicitly authorized by Congress.

Ballard v. United States

Presidential powers

Separation of powers

Wiener v. United States

Categories: History Content