Monday, February 10, 2020

Manners and Menand on the Presidential Removal Power

Jane Manners and Lev Menand, Academic Fellows and Lecturers in Law, Columbia Law School, have posted Removal Permissions and the Forgotten Tenure of a Term of Years:
Just seven words stand between the President and the heads of over a dozen “independent agencies”: inefficiency, neglect of duty, and malfeasance in office (INM). The President can remove the heads of these agencies for INM and for INM only. While these words establish the contours of these agencies’ “independent” character, there is no consensus about what they mean, and thus, the extent of agency independence. This Article addresses that gap. It resurrects the lost history of removal law and defines INM. It shows that neglect of duty and malfeasance in office are common law terms relating to faithful execution that date back hundreds of years and that inefficiency is a nineteenth century concept having to do with government waste and ineptitude. It further shows that INM provisions are not removal “protections” as they have come to be interpreted in recent years, but removal permissions. Where present, they expand the President’s power by authorizing him to remove officials who are tenured for a term-of-years, a tenure long understood to bar removal—for any reason—by the President in the middle of an officer’s term. Three conclusions follow. First, INM was not written to empower the President to direct agency actions. Independent agencies heads really were meant to exercise their discretionary authority independently. Second, even under an expansive reading of Article II, “for cause” removal provisions do not conflict with the Constitution’s Take Care Clause. INM permits the President to combat “unfaithful execution” by empowering him to remove officials for neglect of duty and malfeasance in office. Third, courts have erred by regularly reading INM into enabling statutes that are silent on removal. Where such statutes create offices “for years,” they presumptively prohibit removal—whether summarily or for cause.
--Dan Ernst