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Humphrey's Executor v. United States

Humphrey's Executor v. United States
Argued May 1, 1935
Decided May 27, 1935
Full case name Humphrey's Executor v. United States. Rathbun v. Same
Citations 295 U.S. 602 (more)
295 U.S. 602; 55 S. Ct. 869; 79 L. Ed. 1611; 1935 U.S. LEXIS 1089
The President may not remove any appointee to an independent regulatory agency except for reasons Congress has provided by law.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Sutherland
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. I; U.S. Const. art. II; Federal Trade Commission Act

Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935), was a United States Supreme Court case decided during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt presidency, regarding the powers that a President of the United States has to remove certain executive officials of a "quasi-legislative," "quasi-judicial" administrative body created by Congress, for purely political reasons and without the consent of Congress.

Roosevelt was dissatisfied with William Humphrey, a member of the Federal Trade Commission, as Humphrey did not, in Roosevelt's view, support his New Deal policies vigorously enough.[1]

Twice Roosevelt requested Humphrey to resign from the FTC – requests to which Humphrey did not yield. The third time, Roosevelt fired Humphrey, writing "[e]ffective as of this date you are hereby removed from the office of Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission." Nevertheless, Humphrey continued to come to work at the FTC even after he was formally fired.[1] However, the Federal Trade Commission Act only permitted the President to dismiss an FTC member for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." Roosevelt's decision to dismiss Humphrey was based solely on political differences, rather than job performance or alleged acts of malfeasance.

The case went to the Supreme Court, but Humphrey died before the case could be decided. The case was then pursued by the executors of his estate; thus, the case obtained the title "Humphrey's Executor".

The Court distinguished between executive officers and quasi-legislative or quasi-judicial officers. The latter may be removed only with procedures consistent with statutory conditions enacted by Congress; the former serve at the pleasure of the President and may be removed at his discretion. The Court ruled that the Federal Trade Commission was a quasi-legislative body because of other powers it had, and therefore the President could not fire an FTC member solely for political reasons; thus, Humphrey's firing was improper.

U.S. Attorney General Robert H. Jackson, later to join the Supreme Court himself, said in his memoirs that Roosevelt was particularly annoyed by the Court's decision, as the President felt that it had been rendered for spite.

See also

  • Shurtleff v. United States, 189 U.S. 311 (1903) (“In the absence of constitutional or statutory provision, the President can, by virtue of his general power of appointment, remove an officer, even though he were appointed by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.”).
  • Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 53 (1926) (“The President is empowered by the Constitution to remove any executive officer appointed by him by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and this power is not subject in its exercise to the assent of the Senate, nor can it be made so by an act of Congress.”).
  • Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. 714 (1986) (“In light of these precedents, we conclude that Congress cannot reserve for itself the power of removal of an officer charged with the execution of the laws except by impeachment.”).
  • Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654, 675 (1988) (“[T]here was little or no debate on the question whether the Clause empowers Congress to provide for interbranch appointments, and there is nothing to suggest that the Framers intended to prevent Congress from having that power.”).
  • List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 295


  1. ^ a b McKenna, Marian C. (2002). Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Constitutional War: The Court-Packing Crisis of 1937. Fordham University Press. pp. 96–99.  

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