The Taft Court (1921–30)
Congressional and Executive Power
In what decision did the Taft Court give broad powers to the executive branch to fire its own employees?
The Taft Court ruled 6–3 in Myers v. United States (1926) that the president had the constitutional authority to remove a federal official he had appointed without the advice and consent of the Senate. The case involved Frank S. Myers, a postmaster from Portland, Oregon, whom President Woodrow Wilson had appointed in July 1917 and removed in February 1920. The president summarily removed Myers without seeking congressional approval after an investigation by postal inspectors found evidence of fraudulent activity. Myers argued that he was protected by an 1876 federal law called the Tenure of Office Act, which provided that several classes of postmaster generals (high-ranking positions in the postal system) could be removed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Myers claimed that since the president unilaterally removed him without senatorial consent, he should receive his salary. The government countered that since the executive branch has the power to appoint such officials, it should also have the power to remove them. By the time the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Myers had died but his estate pressed forward with the case.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice William Howard Taft reasoned that the executive branch had broad authority to control the jobs of executive branch employees. He determined that the Tenure of Office Act, which required senatorial “advice and consent,” infringed on the authority of the executive branch and violated separation of powers principles. “The history of the clause by which the Senate was given a check upon the President’s power of appointment makes it clear that it was not prompted by any desire to limit removals,” he wrote.
Justices James McReynolds, Louis Brandeis, and Oliver Wendell Holmes all wrote dissenting opinions, with McReynolds writing the longest of the three. McReynolds attacked many of the chief justices’ arguments. He emphasized that there were many congressional statutes limiting the removal of federal employees.