Summary of Meyers v. United States
Citation: 272 U.S. 52 (1926)
Relevant Facts: Frank Meyers was a first-class Postmaster in Portland, Oregon, appointed by President Wilson to a four-year term. Three years into his appointment, the President demanded his resignation, which Meyers refused. The Postmaster General, acting on instructions from the President, removed Meyers from office. Meyers protested his removal to the President and by petition to the Senate Committee on Post Offices. While he was protesting his removal, Meyers did not obtain other employment, and his former office remaining vacant. Several months after his removal, Meyers brought suit against the United States, seeking his salary from the time of his removal until the end of his appointed term. The Court of Claims ruled against Meyers, concluding that he had not promptly asserted his rights. The Supreme Court reviewed that decision.
Issue: May the President unilaterally remove an executive appointed official, previously confirmed by the Senate, prior to the expiration of his appointed term?
Holding: Yes, the President may remove executive officials, even those appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate, as the power to remove is incident to the power to remove under the President’s Article II powers.
Reasoning: Chief Justice Taft delivered the opinion of the Court. The majority explained that the power to remove executive officials rested with the President, and Congress did not have authority to alter that authority. The President does not need Senate approval to remove an appointed originally appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate. Article II vest the President with executive power, and did not merely give title to his office. The restrictions on Presidential authority contained in the Constitution (including Senate approval for appointments) are merely limitations on a broad, general grant of power and are to be strictly construed. The power to remove an official is incident to the power to appoint, inherent in the nature of executive authority and consistent with the President’s duty to see that the laws be faithfully executed. That same rationale does not apply to the Senate authority to consent to appointments, as their role is fulfilled upon confirmed the President’s choice for an appointment. Similarly, the authority of Congress to give the President power to appoint certain officials does not suggest additional authority over appointees. The historical record suggests that from the First Congress on, the power to remove was with the President, until the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 (directed at President Johnson). In looking at a particular construction of the Constitution’s terms, the Court will consider interpretations by the other branches, in particular those that are long-standing. Presidents had long claimed the power to remove officials, and Congress had long acquiesced until the Tenure of Office Act. Furthermore, Presidential acceptance of legislation attempting to limit his authority can be explained by the merits of the bill in other regards. Finally, the Court pointed out that Marbury v. Madison was not authoritative on the question or Presidential removal. The power to remove being necessary and traditional to the power to appoint, the Court concluded that the President had the authority to remove Meyers.
Dissent: Justice Holmes dissented, pointing out that Congress had near complete control over the office in question here. Congress created the post, designed the term in office, afforded the President authority to appoint, and the authority to authorize funding. Justice Holmes concluded it would be odd if Congress, having near complete control over the office, could not then prevent the President from exercising removal power over that office. Justice McReynolds dissented, and in a long opinion recounted the details of the Constitutional Convention and contemporaneous writings. He emphasized the grant of authority to the President, like that to the Supreme Court, was not without limitation. He concluded that the absence of a removal power was deliberate, and to conclude otherwise would expand the nature of the Presidency far beyond its traditional reach. Justice Brandeis dissented, arguing that Marbury v. Madison decided the issue of Presidential authority over appointments, concluding that the President is powerless to remove a civil officer appointed for a definite term with the consent of the Senate. He concluded that at every opportunity Congress had sought to limit removal of appointed officials, and the absence of information from the Convention was not dispositive. Rather, consistent with writings in the Federalist and the majority of historical analysis, the power to consent to appointments inferred the power to consent to removals. Accordingly, each dissenter would have ruled in favor of Meyers.
Conclusion: The Tenure of Office Act is unconstitutional as it seeks to limit the power of the President to remove executive officials, the power to remove being necessary to traditional executive authority and an incident to the power to appoint. The President may remove executive officials without Congressional approval, even where Senate approval was required for confirmation.