Rathbun, Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602; 55 S. Ct. 869; 79 L. Ed. 1611 (1935)

Rathbun, Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602; 55 S. Ct. 869; 79 L. Ed. 1611 (1935)

Facts—On December 10, 1931, President Herbert Hoover nominated William E. Humphrey to succeed himself as a member of the Federal Trade Commission, and the Senate confirmed him. He was duly commissioned for a term of seven years, ending on September 25, 1938. On July 25, 1933 President Roosevelt asked the commissioner for his resignation, on the grounds that his administration could more effectively carry out his aims with his own person- nel. Humphrey refused and was removed by the president on October 7, 1933. Samuel F. Rathbun, executor of the deceased Humphrey’s estate, brought suit.

Question—(a) Do the provisions of the Federal Trade Commission Act stating that “any commissioner may be removed by the president for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office” restrict the power of the president to remove a commissioner except for one or more of the causes named? (b) If so, is such a restriction valid under the Constitution?

Decision—(a) Yes; (b) Yes.

ReasonsJ. Sutherland (9–0). In the act setting up the Federal Trade Commis- sion the term of office was set at seven years because the exacting and difficult character of the work made it desirable for commissioners to acquire the exper- tise that comes from experience. Congress also intended to create a commission not subject to the government, nor under any political domination or control, but separate from any existing department. Congress considered the length and certainty of tenure to be a vital factor in setting up the commission, and there- fore limited executive removal power to the causes mentioned. This case differs from Myers v. United States. However, Myers was a postmaster, exercising an executive function, subject to the control of the chief executive, which differs greatly from a commissioner having legislative and judicial power.

Congress has power to create such quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial agencies and the authority to fix the period of office and to forbid removal, except for specified causes. “We think it plain under the Constitution that illimitable power of removal is not possessed by the president in respect of offices of the character of those just named. 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, and to forbid their removal except for cause in the meantime.”

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