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Myers v. United States

A Former President Defends Presidential Powers

Chief Justice Taft wrote the Court's decision in Myers. Taft, when he had served as president from 1909-1913, had generally accepted constitutional limits on a president's power. But his decision in this case asserted broad removal powers for the chief executive.

Taft used the Decision of 1789 as the foundation for his opinion. He remarked that many of the members of that first Congress had been at the Constitutional Convention and so understood the framers' intent. Congress had set a precedent with its interpretation of the president's removal powers, and although the Court was not bound to accept it, Taft did. He said that the 1867 Tenure of Office Act had been unconstitutional, and so was the 1876 law regarding postmasters.

Taft wrote that the president, as chief executive, had to carry out the nation's laws. Though the Constitution did not explicitly say so, the president had an inherent power to appoint subordinates who would help him in his executive duty. Taft also saw another inherent power:

The further implication must be, in the absence of any express limitation respecting removals, that as his selection of administrative officers is essential to the execution of the laws by him, so must be his power for removing those for whom he cannot continue to be responsible . . . A veto by the Senate--a part of the legislative branch of the government--upon removals is a much greater limitation upon the executive branch, and a much more serious blending of the legislative with the executive, than a rejection of a proposed appointment. It is not to be implied.

Without the ability to remove an appointee on his own, the president lacked a tool for enforcing discipline among his subordinates. Removal powers gave the president an effective, immediate level of control as he performed his duty of executing the nation's laws. Congressional limits on that power violated the notion of separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government.

Additional topics

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