The courts have laid down the general doctrine that where a power of supervision and direction is given to an administrative superior, this power may be exercised either by way of direct order, or by entertaining appeals from the acts of subordinates.
In Knight v. United States Land Association15 the court, construing a law requiring that certain things be done under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, quotes with approval the following from an opinion of the Secretary:
"The statutes in placing the whole business of the department under the supervision of the Secretary, invest him with authority to review, reverse, amend, annul, or affirm all proceedings in the department having for their ultimate object to secure the alienation of any portion of the public lands, or the adjustment of private claims to lands, with a just regard to the rights of the public and of private parties. Such supervision may be exercised by direct orders or by review on appeals. The mode in which the supervision shall be exercised in the absence of statutory direction may be prescribed by such rules and regulations as the Secretary may adopt. When proceedings affecting titles to lands are before the department the power of supervision may be exercised by the Secretary, whether these proceedings are called to his attention by formal notice or by appeal. It is sufficient that they are brought to his notice. The rules prescribed are designed to facilitate the department in the despatch of business, not to defeat the supervision of the Secretary. For example, if, when a patent is about to issue, the Secretary should discover a fatal defect in the proceedings, or that by reason of some newly ascertained fact the patent, if issued, would have to be annulled, and that it would be his duty to ask the Attorney-General to institute proceedings for its annulment, it would hardly be seriously contended that the Secretary might not interfere and prevent the execution of the patent. He could not be obliged to sit quietly and allow a proceeding to be consummated which it would be immediately his duty to ask the Attorney-General to take measures to annul. It would not be a sufficient answer against the exercise of his power that no appeal had been taken to him and therefore he was without authority in the matter."
15 142 U. S. 161; 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 258; 35 L. ed. 974.
This case is quoted and approved in Orchard v. Alexander.16 In that case the court say: " Of course, this power of reviewing and setting aside the action of the local land officers is, as was decided in Cornelius v. Kessel (128 U. S. 456; 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 122; 32 L. ed. 482) not arbitrary and unlimited. It does not prevent judicial inquiry. (Johnson v. Towsley, 13 Wall. 72; 20 L. ed. 485.) However, the court goes on to observe, it is competent for Congress to give finality to the determinations of subordinate administrative officers, provided due process of law, that is notice and a hearing, is provided. In Butterworth v. United States (112 U. S. 50; 5 Sup. Ct, Rep. 25; 28 L. ed. 656) it was held that the Secretary of the Interior had, under the statutes, no power to revise the action of the Commissioner of Patents in awarding to an applicant priority of invention and adjudging him a patent. But this was on the ground that the law expressly provided for an appeal from the Commissioner to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, whose decision should ' govern the further proceedings in the case.' "
Generally speaking, it has been held that no appeal lies to the President from the heads of the great Departments at Washington. This is upon the ground that the acts of these administrative chiefs are held to be the acts of the President.17 It may be observed, however, that in the several States of the Union the heads of the administrative departments have, commonly, no powers of direction, and, therefore, that there is no general right of appeal to them.
16 157 U. S. 372; 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 635; 39 L. ed. 737. 17 Opinions of Atty. Gen. IX, 462; X, 526.