Citation. 478 U.S. 714 1986
Brief Fact Summary.
Congress passed an Act to reduce the federal budget deficit. The Act authorized the President to act based on the conclusions of the Comptroller General.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Congress could not delegate executive authority to a federal officer who could be removed at Congress’ discretion. The power assigned to the Comptroller General under the Act was executive because the Act directed him to interpret laws of Congress to implement the legislative mandate.
Congress passed the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Congrol Act of 1985 (“Act”) to eliminate the federal budget deficit. Under the Act, the Directors of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the COngressional Budget Office (CBO) made estimations and calculations that were reported to the Comptroller General. The Comptroller General would review the reports and present their conclusion to the President, who would issue an order mandating the spending reductions specified by the Comptroller General. Congress then had the opportunity to reduce spending. If Congress did not do so, the President’s order would become effective, and spending reductions specified in that order are made.
When the President signed the Act into law, Synar filed a complaint seeking declaratory relief to establish that the Act was unconsitutional.
Did Congress violate the Constitution by assigning certain functions to the Comptroller General of the United States, where the Comptroller General could be removed by an act of Congress?
Yes, Congress violated the Constitution by assigning certain functions to the Comptroller General of the United States, where the Comptroller General could be removed by an act of Congress.
Justice White argued that the Comptroller General was not an agent of Congress incapable of receiving executive power, and that removal of an officer for cause through a joint resolution of Congress was not analagous to an impermissible execution of the law by Congress. According to Justice White, Congress’ ability to remove the Comptroller General is limited, and that the Act’s procedures for removing the Comptroller satisfy the INS v. Chadha requirements of bicameralism and presentment.
Justice Stevens agreed with the Supreme Court’s ultimate holding that the Constitution prevented the Comptroller General from exercising the powers assigned to him by the Act, but he argued that it was because the Comtroller General was an agent of Congress, and that when an agent of Congress seeks to make binding policy, they must follow the procedures laid out in Article I—through passage through both Houses of Congress and presentment to the President. Here, he argued, Congress attempted to delegate its policy making authority to one individual—the Comptroller General.
The Supreme Court held that, under Article II, § 2, Congress’ only authority over federal officers is to provide advice and consent to the President when the President appoints federal officers, and to remove them only upon impeachment. Congress cannot reserve for itself the power to remove federal officers except by impeachment. The Supreme Court cited its own precedent—Myers v. United States, and Humphrey’s Executor v. United States—to support this finding.
The Supreme Court went on to establish that the Comptroller General was in fact exercising executive powers through the Act, because the Act directed him to interpret laws of Congress to implement the legislative mandate.