Though the Supreme Court has never had occasion to pass squarely upon the point, executive practice, and, with the exception of the tenure of office acts of 1867 and 1869, Congressional enactment has sanctioned the view that the power to remove from federal office is constitutionally inherent in the President as to all offices to which he alone, or in conjunction with the Senate, appoints.11
11 This question was raised and ably discussed in the first Congress. In Parsons v. United States (167 U. S. 324; 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 880; 42 L. ed. 185) the following summary of the discussion is given:.
"On May 19, 1789, in the House of Representatives, Mr. Madison moved: 'That it is the opinion of this committee that there shall be established an executive department, to be denominated the department of foreign affairs; at the head of which there shall be an officer to be called the secretary of the department of foreign affairs, who shall be appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate; and to be removable by the President.' Subsequently a bill was introduced embodying those provisions. Mr. Smith of South Carolina said that 'he had doubts whether the officer could be removed by the President, he apprehended that he could only be removed by an impeachment before the Senate, and that being once in office he must remain there until convicted upon impeachment; and he wished gentlemen would consider this point well before deciding it.' (1st Lloyd's Cong. Reg., pp. 350, 351.) Then ensued what has been many times described as one of the ablest constitutional debates which has taken place in Congress since the adoption of the Constitution. It lasted for many days, and all arguments that could be thought of by men - many of whom have been instrumental in the preparation and adoption of the Constitution - were brought forward in the debate in favor of or against that construction of the instrument which reposed in the President alone the power to remove from office.
"After a most exhaustive debate the House refused to adopt the motion which had been made to strike out the words 'to be removed from office by the President,' but subsequently the bill was amended by inserting a provision that there should be a clerk to be appointed by the secretary, etc., and that said clerk, 'whenever said principal officer shall be removed from office by the President of the United States, or in any other case of a vacancy.' shall be the custodian of the records, etc., and thereupon the 1st clause, 'that the secretary shall be removable from office by the President,' was stricken out, but it was on the well understood ground that the amendment sufficiently embodied the construction of the Constitution given to it by Mr. Madison and those who agreed with him. and that it was at the same time free from the objection to the clause so stricken out that it was itself ceptible to the objection of undertaking to confer upon the President a power which before he had not. The bill so amended was sent to the Senate, and In Ex parte Hennen,12 a case involving the validity of an appointment of a clerk of the district court of Louisiana by the district judge thereof, it was said by Mr. Justice Thompson, in speaking of the power of removal:
"In the absence of all constitutional provision, or statutory regulation, it would seem to be a sound and necessary rule to consider the power of removal as incident to the power of appointment. This power of removal from office was a subject much disputed, and upon which a great diversity of opinion was entertained in the early history of this government This related, however, to the power of the President to remove officers appointed with the concurrence of the Senate, both constituting the appointing power. No one denied the power of the President and Senate, jointly, to remove, where the tenure of the office was not fixed by the Constitution, which was a full recognition of the principle that the power of removal was incident to the power of appointment. But it was very early adopted, as the practical construction of the Constitution, that this power was vested in the President alone. And such would appear to have been the legislative construction of the Constitution."
And in speaking of the different language employed in the act establishing the Navy Department from that which was used in regard to the Department of State, the learned justice further remarked : "The change of phraseology arose, probably, from its having become the settled and well-understood construction of the Constitution that the power of removal was vested in the President alone, in such cases, although the appointment of the officer was by the President and Senate."
In Marbury v. Madison13 Chief Justice Marshall, in the course of his opinion, stated that: "Mr. Marbury, then, since his commission was signed by the President and sealed by the secretary was finally passed after a long and able debate by that body, without any amendment on this particular subject. The Senate was, however, equally divided upon it, and the question was decided in favor of the bill by the casting vote of Mr. Adams, as Vice-President."
12 13 Pet. 230; 10 L. ed. 138.
13 1 Cr. 137; 2 L. ed. 60.
of state, was appointed; and as the law creating the office gave the officer the right to hold for five years, independent of the executive, the appointment was not revocable, but vested in the officer legal rights, which are protected by the laws of his country."
Commenting upon this implication that this officer was not re movable at the will of the President, the Supreme Court, in Parsons v. United States, say: "Whatever has been said by that great magistrate in regard to the meaning and proper construction of the Constitution is entitled to be received with the most profound respect. In that case, however, the material point decided was that the court had no jurisdiction over the case as presented. The remarks of the Chief Justice in relation to the right of an appointee to retain possession of an office created by Congress in and for the District of Columbia, as against the power of the President to remove him during the term for which he was appointed, are not necessarily applicable to the case of an officer appointed to an office outside of such district. In the District of Columbia Congress is given by the Constitution power to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases. U. S. Const, art. 1, § 8, subd. 17. The view that the President had no power of removal in other cases outside of the District, as has been seen, is one that had never been taken by the executive department of the government, nor even by Congress prior to 1867, when the first tenure of office act was passed. Up to that time the constant practice of the government was the other way, and in entire accord with the construction of the Constitution arrived at by Congress in 1789."
In this case of Parsons the question was presented whether the President had the power to remove from office, before the expiration of his term, a district attorney who had been duly appointed under an act of Congress which provided that "District Attorneys shall be appointed for a term of four years and their commissions shall cease and expire at the expiration of four years from their respective dates." The court held that, viewing the statute in the light of legislative and executive practice for more than a hundred years, it was not to be held that Congress had intended, by fixing the term of office to four years, to limit the power of the President to remove before the expiration of that time.
The Tenure of Office Acts of 1867 and 1809, which were repealed in 1886, did, in express terms, limit the President's power of removal, but these acts were passed under peculiar conditions of strife between Congress and the President, they never were brought before the court for the determination of their constitutionality, and all the dicta of that court since uttered, would indicate a present opinion at least, that the acts were void, that, in short, Congress has not the constitutional power to limit the President's power of removal from office those whom he has alone, or with the advice and consent of the Senate, appointed.
In Reagan v. United States14 it was implicitly held, however, that an officer appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate under an act of Congress, is entitled to notice and a hearing before removal if by Constitution or statute causes for removal are specified, or the term of office fixed for a given period. In this case the court held that in fact Congress had not affirmatively specified any causes of removal, but intimated, as said, that had it done so, notice and hearing would have been necessary before removal.
In Shurtleff v. United States15 the President's power of removal from office was again carefully considered. This case did not require the court to determine whether the President's power of removal was constitutionally exempt from the control of Congress, inasmuch as it held, by a rather strained construction, that when a federal officer has been removed from office by the President without notice or an opportunity to defend, it will be presumed that the removal was made from other causes than those specified by Congress, and that this being so, the officer so removed is not entitled to that notice and opportunity to defend to which he would have been entitled had his removal been based upon one of the causes specified by Congress as justifying removal. And, furthermore, it was necessarily held that the specification by Congress of certain causes for which removal may be made, is not to be construed as declaring, or attempting to declare, that removal shall not be made for such other reasons as to the President may seem sufficient.
14 182 U. S. 419; 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 842; 45 L. ed. 1162. 15 189 U. S. 311; 23 Sup. Ct. Rep. 535; 47 L. ed. 828.