In the case of Humphrey’s Executor v. United States (295 U.S. 602 (1935)), President Hoover nominated Humphrey to be a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner. He was approved by the Senate. Later, President Roosevelt fired Humphrey because Humphrey didn’t agree with Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Humphrey died (possibly of a broken heart), and his executor sued for back salary on the theory that the President could not fire an FTC Commissioner.
- The Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA) only allowed a president to remove a commissioner for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.”
- The US Supreme Court found for Humphrey.
- The Court found that the FTCA was constitutional and that Humphrey’s dismissal on policy grounds was unjustified.
- The Court found that the Constitution had never given “illimitable power of removal” to the President.
- The Court found that the FTC has quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial functions and was therefore not exclusively an Executive Branch agency. Therefore, the President did not have the exclusive right to remove FTC officials.
The basic point of this case is that if a government official exercises powers that could be considered legislative or judicial, then the President can only fire that official for cause. Officers who have only executive powers can be fired by the President for any reason (see Myers v. United States (272 U.S. 52 (1926))).
- The tricky part is defining exactly what counts as a ‘quasi-legislative‘ or ‘quasi-judicial‘ power. The terms are ambiguous.