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Humphrey’s Executor v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Roosevelt fired Mr. Humphrey, a commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Under Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 (1926) the President has unrestricted power to remove executive branch officials.

    Facts.

    President Roosevelt fired Mr. Humphrey, a commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in violation of a statute that said that a commissioner could only be removed for “inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.” The executor of Humphrey’s estate (plaintiff) sued the United States (defendant) for back pay. The government responded that back pay was not merited because the removal restriction was unconstitutional. The case came before the United States Supreme Court.

    Issue.

    Whether the President has unrestricted power, under the U.S. Constitution, to remove a government officer whose functions are of a legislative and judicial nature where Congress provides specific grounds upon which the officer may be removed from office.

    Held.

    An FTC commissioner’s functions are legislative and judicial in nature. The President’s exclusive removal power does not extend to such government officers. The President’s exercise of his removal power here exerts coercive influence over the FTC that threatens the agency’s independence. Such an outcome is at odds with the separation of powers doctrine. Accordingly, the President had no constitutional power to remove Humphrey outside of the reasons specified by Congress.

    Discussion.

    Under Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 (1926) the President has unrestricted power to remove executive branch officials, such as the postmaster.Here, Myers does not control the removal of an FTC commissioner because, unlike the position of commissioner, the position of postmaster is an executive office restricted to the performance of executive functions. The FTC is an administrative body created by Congress to carry into effect the legal policies found in the statute that Congress enacted, subject to the legislative standards established therein.


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