Bowshear v. Synar Case Brief

Summary of Bowshear v. Synar (1986)

Relevant Facts: The Graham-Rudman-Hollings Act provided that in the fiscal years 1986-91, the Act set a maximum deficit amount of $0. Anything more required across-the-board cuts to the budget, to be undertaken first by the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and Congressional Budget Office (CBO), who'd calculate the necessary budget reductions and report to the Comptroller General, who then reported to the President.

The President was then required under the Act to issue a sequestration order (the cancellation of funds for expenditure or obligation in order to enforce federal budget limitations set by law) mandating the spending reductions specified by the Comptroller General. The Act also called for Congressional right to fire the Comptroller General for reasons of: permanent disability, inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance, felony/illegal conduct.

12 members of Congress, the Nat'l Treasury Employees Union, and a union member brought suit challenging the Act on separation of powers grounds. Lower court invalidated the law. This Court affirms.

Issue: Under constitutional law, is the implementation by Congressional Act by which the Controller General is responsible in effect for electing, and then notifying the President, which cuts in the Federal budget to make on an annual basis?

Holding: No. This is an executive authority, which has attempted to be usurped by the Legislative branch's passing of the Act. The President has the authority to finalize federal spending.

Court's Rationale/Reasoning: To permit an officer controlled by Congress to execute the laws would be, in essence, to permit a congressional veto. Appellants say the Comptroller General performs independently, but this is irrelevant. The critical factor lies in the provisions of removability (listed in facts). No one can be removed by a joint resolution of Congress. Comptroller is not a Congressionally-influenced officer.

It is true that Comptrollers have viewed themselves as part of the legislative branch, and the reverse is true as well. Since Congress has retained removal authority over the Comptroller General, the office may not be entrusted with executive powers.

As to whether the Comptroller General has been assigned such powers in the Balanced Budget & Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, it is suggested by appellants that the officer's duties are essentially ministerial and mechanical to that they do not constitute an execution of the law in a meaningful sense. But how can this be when the officer's duties consist of the ultimate power to determine which budget cuts are to be made? Under this law, it is the President carrying out what the Comptroller General tells them to do.

Congress cannot place the responsibility for execution of these Acts in the hands of an officer who is subject to removal by Congress; they have in effect retained control over the execution of the Act and intruded into the executive function.

Rule: Art. II, Section 2: The President appoints “Officers of the U.S.” with the “advice and consent of the Senate.” Once the appointment has been made, the Constitution calls for the removal of officers by impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate (treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors).

Important Dicta: N/A.

Dissenting: (White): This was a proper delegation by Congress, to hand this problematic issue to an independent party who has the knowledge to understand and deal with such matters effectively. The appropriation of funds is purely Congressional. The removal provision is practically impossible. White makes a necessary and proper argument, that Congress has seen fit to delegate such authority to another person to “counteract ever-mounting deficits” is appropriate to exercise the powers granted the Federal Gov't in the Constitution.

“The role of this Court should be limited to determining whether the Act so alters the balance of authority among the branches of gov't as to pose a genuine threat to the basic division between the lawmaking power and the power to execute the law.” There is no such threat.

Concurring: (Justices Stevens & Marshall): Doesn't agree with Congressional removal portion of opinion or the dissent (obviously). These justices espouse that the Comptroller General should, as an appointee in effect of the legislature, be allowed to make such recommendations, then have the bill as per Art. I, move through both Houses, then be presented to the President. Congress may not exercise its fundamental power to formulate national policy by delegating that power to one of its two Houses, to legislative committee, or to an individual agent of Congress (Speaker, Sergeant-at-Arms, Director of CBO). In effect, intra-Congressional delegations violate Chadha.

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