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Myers v. United States

History Of Appointment And Removal Powers

The Constitution spells out the appointment process, giving the president the power to name ambassadors, judges, and other public officials, with the Senate's approval. But except for impeachment, the Constitution does not address removing appointed officials. In 1789, the first Congress wrestled with this situation as it tried to establish the practical operation of the new federal government. James Madison proposed setting up an executive office to handle foreign affairs; the secretary of this office would be confirmed by the Senate, but the president would have the authority to remove the secretary without the Senate's consent. The so-called "Decision of 1789" said that the president had an inherent power of removal--one not specifically granted in the Constitution, but implied. For more than 70 years, Congress did not challenge this right in any meaningful way.

During the Reconstruction Era, however, Congress was eager to assert its power at the expense of President Andrew Johnson. The president opposed the plans of the "Radical Republicans" who controlled Congress. One of Johnson's own cabinet members, Edwin M. Stanton, was a vocal supporter of the laws Johnson fought. To thwart any attempt by Johnson to fire Stanton, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867. The law forced a president to seek Senate approval before removing a cabinet member. Johnson thought the law was unconstitutional and defied it, removing Stanton and naming a replacement. Stanton, meanwhile, refused to step down from his position. He barricaded himself in his office, cooking meals there and conferring with his congressional allies.

Johnson's defiance of the Tenure of Office Act led to his impeachment in the House of Representatives. At Johnson's trial in the Senate, he was acquitted by just one vote. The constitutionality of the Tenure of Office Act was never tested, and the law was repealed in 1887. But before that repeal, Congress passed the act regulating the removal of postmasters, and that law brought the removal issue in front of the Supreme Court.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Myers v. United States - Significance, History Of Appointment And Removal Powers, A Former President Defends Presidential Powers, Three Strong Dissents