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U.S. Supreme Court

Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935)

Humphrey's Executor v. United States*

No. 637

Argued 1, 1935

Decided May 27, 1935

295 U.S. 602


1. The Federal Trade Commission Act fixes the terms of the Commissioners and provides that any Commissioner may be removed by the President for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office. Held that Congress intended to restrict the power of removal to one or more of those causes. Shurtleff v. United States, 189 U. S. 311, distinguished. Pp. 295 U. S. 621, 295 U. S. 626.

2. This construction of the Act is confirmed by a consideration of the character of the Commission -- an independent, nonpartisan body of experts, charged with duties neither political nor executive, but predominantly quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative, and by the legislative history of the Act. P. 295 U. S. 624.

3. When Congress provides for the appointment of officers whose functions, like those of the Federal Trade Commissioners, are of Legislative and judicial quality, rather than executive, and limits the grounds upon which they may be removed from office, the President has no constitutional power to remove them for reasons other than those so specified. Myers v. United States, 272 U. S. 52, limited, and expressions in that opinion in part disapproved. Pp. 295 U. S. 626, 295 U. S. 627. chanrobles.com-red

Page 295 U. S. 603

The Myers case dealt with the removal of a postmaster, an executive officer restricted to executive functions and charged with no duty at all related to either the legislative or the judicial power. The actual decision in the Myers case finds support in the theory that such an officer is merely one of the units in the executive department, and, hence, inherently subject to the exclusive and illimitable power of removal by the Chief Executive, whose subordinate he is. That decision goes no farther than to include purely executive officers. The Federal Trade Commission, in contrast, is an administrative body created by Congress to carry into effect legislative policies embodied in the statute in accordance with the legislative standard therein prescribed, and to perform other specified duties as a legislative or as a judicial aid. Such a body cannot in any proper sense be characterized as an arm or an eye of the executive. Its duties are performed without executive leave, and, in the contemplation of the statute, must be free from executive control. To the extent that it exercises any executive function -- as distinguished from executive power in the constitutional sense -- it does so in the discharge and effectuation of its quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial powers, or as an agency of the legislative or judicial departments of the Government. Pp. 295 U. S. 627-628.

4. The authority of Congress, in creating quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial agencies, to require them to act in discharge of their duties independently of executive control cannot well be doubted, and that authority includes, as an appropriate incident, power to fix the period during which they shall continue in office, and to forbid their removal except for cause in the meantime. P. 295 U. S. 629.

5. The fundamental necessity of maintaining each of the three general departments of government entirely free from the control or coercive influence, direct or indirect, of either of the others has often been stressed, and is hardly open to serious question. So much is implied in the very fact of the separation of the powers of these departments by the Constitution, and in the rule which recognizes their essential coequality. P. 295 U. S. 629.

6. Whether the power of the President to remove an officer shall prevail over the authority of Congress to condition the power by fixing a definite term and precluding a removal except for cause will depend upon the character of the office. To the extent that, between the decision in the Myers case, which sustains the unrestrictable power of the President to remove purely executive officers, and the present decision that such power does not extend to an office chanrobles.com-red

Page 295 U. S. 604

such as that here involved there shall remain a field of doubt, such cases as may fall within it are left for future consideration and determination as they may arise. P. 295 U. S. 631.

7. While the general rule preclude the use of congressional debates to explain the meaning of the words of a statute, they may be considered as reflecting light upon its general purposes and the evils which it sought to remedy. P. 295 U. S. 625.

8. Expressions in an opinion which are beyond the point involved do not come within the rule of stare decisis. P. 295 U. S. 626.

CERTIFICATE from the Court of Claims, propounding questions arising on a claim for the salary withheld from the plaintiff's testator, from the time when the President undertook to remove him from office to the time of his death. chanrobles.com-red

Page 295 U. S. 618


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