“The decision is a welcome defense of what’s left of the separation of powers.”
—Corbin K. Barthold, WLF Senior Litigation Counsel
WASHINGTON, DC—The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Congress may not insulate sole-director federal agency heads from at-will removal by the President. WLF filed an amicus brief in the case urging this outcome.
The framers of our Constitution granted the President a broad executive removal power. This can be seen in (among other places) Article II’s clauses vesting “the executive Power” in a single “President” who must “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” In 1935, however, the Supreme Court declared in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States that Congress may grant for-cause removal protection to a principal officer on a panel of purportedly neutral “experts.”
In a 5-4 ruling, the Court holds in Seila Law that Humphrey’s Executor does not extend to agencies headed by a single director. “In our constitutional system,” the Court confirms, “the executive power belongs to the President, and that power generally includes the ability to supervise and remove the agents who wield executive power in his stead.”
WLF’s amicus brief in the case engaged in an extensive review of the history of the removal power. The breadth of that power can be seen, WLF argued, in English history, in the text and structure of the Constitution, and in over a century of unbroken executive-branch practice after the founding.
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