Humphrey Ex v. United States Rathbun v. Same, No. 667

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSUTHERLAND
Citation79 L.Ed. 1611,55 S.Ct. 869,295 U.S. 602
PartiesHUMPHREY'S EX'R v. UNITED STATES. RATHBUN v. SAME
Decision Date27 May 1935
Docket NumberNo. 667

295 U.S. 602
55 S.Ct. 869
79 L.Ed. 1611
HUMPHREY'S EX'R

v.

UNITED STATES. RATHBUN v. SAME.

No. 667.
Argued May 1, 1935.
Decided May 27, 1935.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 602-604 intentionally omitted]

Page 604

Mr. William J. Donovan, of Washington, D.C. (Messrs. Henry H. Bond and Ralstone R. Irvine, both of Washington, D.C., of counsel), for plaintiff.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 604-612 intentionally omitted]

Page 612

The Attorney General and Mr. Stanley F. Reed, Sol. Gen., of Washington, D.C., for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 612-618 intentionally omitted]

Page 618

Mr. Justice SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

Plaintiff brought suit in the Court of Claims against the United States to recover a sum of money alleged to be due the deceased for salary as a Federal Trade Commissioner from October 8, 1933, when the President undertook to remove him from office, to the time of his death on February 14, 1934. The court below has certified to this court two questions (Act of February 13, 1925, § 3(a), c. 229, 43 Stat. 936, 939, 28 U.S.C. § 288 (28 USCA § 288)), in respect of the power of the President to make the removal. The material facts which give rise to the questions are as follows:

William E. Humphrey, the decedent, on December 10, 1931, was nominated by President Hoover to succeed himself as a member of the Federal Trade Commission, and was confirmed by the United States Senate. He was duly commissioned for a term of seven years, expiring September 25, 1938; and, after taking the required oath of office, entered upon his duties. On July 25, 1933, President Roosevelt addressed a letter to the commissioner asking for his resignation, on the ground 'that the aims and purposes of the Administration with respect to the work of the Commission can be carried out most effectively with personnel of my own selection,' but disclaiming any reflection upon the commissioner personally or upon his services. The commissioner replied, asking time to con-

Page 619

sult his friends. After some further correspondence upon the subject, the President on August 31, 1933, wrote the commissioner expressing the hope that the resignation would be forthcoming, and saying: 'You will, I know, realize that I do not feel that your mind and my mind go along together on either the policies or the administering of the Federal Trade Commission, and, frankly, I think it is best for the people of this country that I should have a full confidence.'

The commissioner declined to resign; and on October 7, 1933, the President wrote him: 'Effective as of this date you are hereby removed from the office of Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission.'

Humphrey never acquiesced in this action, but continued thereafter to insist that he was still a member of the commission, entitled to perform its duties and receive the compensation provided by law at the rate of $10,000 per annum. Upon these and other facts set forth in the certificate, which we deem it unnecessary to recite, the following questions are certified:

'1. Do the provisions of section 1 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, stating that 'any commissioner may be removed by the President for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office', restrict or limit the power of the President to remove a commissioner except upon one or more of the causes named?

'If the foregoing question is answered in the affirmative, then—

'2. If the power of the President to remove a commissioner is restricted or limited as shown by the foregoing interrogatory and the answer made thereto, is such a restriction or limitation valid under the Constitution of the United States?'

The Federal Trade Commission Act, c. 311, 38 Stat. 717, 718, §§ 1, 2, 15 U.S.C. §§ 41, 42 (15 USCA §§ 41, 42), creates a commission of five

Page 620

members to be appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, and section 1 provides: 'Not more than three of the commissioners shall be members of the same political party. The first commissioners appointed shall continue in office for terms of three, four, five, six, and seven years, respectively, from the date of the taking effect of this Act (September 26, 1914), the term of each to be designated by the President, but their successors shall be appointed for terms of seven years, except that any person chosen to fill a vacancy shall be appointed only for the unexpired term of the commissioner whom he shall succeed. The commission shall choose a chairman from its own membership. No commissioner shall engage in any other business, vocation, or employment. Any commissioner may be removed by the President for inefficiency. neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office. * * *'

Section 5 of the act (15 USCA § 45) in part provides that:

'Unfair methods of competition in commerce are declared unlawful.

'The commission is empowered and directed to prevent persons, partnerships, or corporations, except banks, and common carriers subject to the Acts to regulate commerce, from using unfair methods of competition in commerce.'

In exercising this power, the commission must issue a complaint stating its charges and giving notice of hearing upon a day to be fixed. A person, partnership, or corporation proceeded against is given the right to appear at the time and place fixed and show cause why an order to cease and desist should not be issued. There is provision for intervention by others interested. If the commission finds the method of competition is one prohibited by the act, it is directed to make a report in writing stating its findings as to the facts, and to issue and cause to be served a cease and desist order. If the order is disobeyed, the commission may apply to the appropriate Circuit Court of

Page 621

Appeals for its enforcement. The party subject to the order may seek and obtain a review in the Circuit Court of Appeals in a manner provided by the act.

Section 6 (15 USCA § 46), among other things, gives the commission wide powers of investigation in respect of certain corporations subject to the act, and in respect of other matters, upon which it must report to Congress with recommendations. Many such investigations have been made, and some have served as the basis of congressional legislation.

Section 7 (15 USCA § 47), provides that: 'In any suit in equity brought by or under the direction of the Attorney General as provided in the antitrust Acts, the court may, upon the conclusion of the testimony therein, if it shall be then of opinion that the complainant is entitled to relief, refer said suit to the commission, as a master in chancery, to ascertain and report an appropriate form of decree therein. The commission shall proceed upon such notice to the parties and under such rules of procedure as the court may prescribe, and upon the coming in of such report such exceptions may be filed and such proceedings had in relation thereto as upon the report of a master in other equity causes, but the court may adopt or reject such report, in whole or in part, and enter such decree as the nature of the case may in its judgment require.'

First. The question first to be considered is whether, by the provisions of section 1 of the Federal Trade Commission Act already quoted, the President's power is limited to removal for the specific causes enumerated therein. The negative contention of the government is based principally upon the decision of this court in Shurtleff v. United States, 189 U.S. 311, 23 S.Ct. 535, 537, 47 L.Ed. 828. That case involved the power of the President to remove a general appraiser of merchandise appointed under the Act of June 10, 1890, 26 Stat. 131. Section 12 of the act provided for the appointment by the President, by and with the advice and con-

Page 622

sent of the Senate, of nine general appraisers of merchandise, who 'may be removed from office at any time by the President for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.' The President removed Shurtleff without assigning any cause therefor. The Court of Claims dismissed plaintiff's petition to recover salary, upholding the President's power to remove for causes other than those stated. In this court Shurtleff relied upon the maxim expressio unius est exclusio alterius; but this court held that, while the rule expressed in the maxim was a very proper one and founded upon justifiable reasoning in many instances, it 'should not be accorded controlling weight when to do so would involve the alteration of the universal practice of the government for over a century, and the consequent curtailment of the powers of the Executive in such an unusual manner.' What the court meant by this expression appears from a reading of the opinion. That opinion, after saying that no term of office was fixed by the act and that, with the exception of judicial officers provided for by the Constitution, no civil officer had ever held office by life tenure since the foundation of the government, points out that to construe the statute as contended for by Shurtleff would give the appraiser the right to hold office during his life or until found guilty of some act specified in the statute, the result of which would be a complete revolution in respect of the general tenure of office, effected by implication with regard to that particular office only.

'We think it quite inadmissible,' the court said (189 U.S. 311, at pages 316, 318, 23 S.Ct. 535, 537, 47 L.Ed. 828), 'to attribute an intention on the part of Congress to make such an extraordinary change in the usual rule governing the tenure of office, and one which is to be applied to this particular office only, without stating such intention in plain and explicit language, instead of leaving it to be implied from doubtful inferences. * * * We cannot bring ourselves to the belief that Congress ever

Page 623

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496 practice notes
  • Hill v. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n, Civil Action No. 1:15–CV–1801–LMM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • June 8, 2015
    ...are "independent of the Executive in their day-to-day operations." Id. at 133, 96 S.Ct. 612 (quoting Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 625–26, 55 S.Ct. 869, 79 L.Ed. 1611 (1935) )."[A]ny appointee exercising significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States i......
  • Buckley v. Valeo, No. 75-1061
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 29, 1975
    ...conduct of the federal electoral process, especially in regards to Presidential elections. Further, Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 55 S.Ct. 869, 79 L.Ed. 1611 (1935) is of no help to defendants here. Humphrey's dealt with the scope of the President's removal power over ......
  • Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, No. 11–697.
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • March 19, 2013
    ...bound to follow our dicta in a prior case in which the point now at issue was not fully debated”); Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 627–628, 55 S.Ct. 869, 79 L.Ed. 1611 (1935) (rejecting, under stare decisis, dicta, “which may be followed if sufficiently persuasive but wh......
  • Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority, Nos. 403
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 17, 1936
    ...error to a State court from the Supreme Court of the United States.' 11 A notable recent example is Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, page 626 et seq., 55 S.Ct. 869, 79 L.Ed. 1611, which limited Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 47 S.Ct. 21, 71 L.Ed. 160, disapproving i......
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472 cases
  • Hill v. Sec. & Exch. Comm'n, Civil Action No. 1:15–CV–1801–LMM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • June 8, 2015
    ...are "independent of the Executive in their day-to-day operations." Id. at 133, 96 S.Ct. 612 (quoting Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 625–26, 55 S.Ct. 869, 79 L.Ed. 1611 (1935) )."[A]ny appointee exercising significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States i......
  • Buckley v. Valeo, No. 75-1061
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 29, 1975
    ...conduct of the federal electoral process, especially in regards to Presidential elections. Further, Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 55 S.Ct. 869, 79 L.Ed. 1611 (1935) is of no help to defendants here. Humphrey's dealt with the scope of the President's removal power over ......
  • Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, No. 11–697.
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • March 19, 2013
    ...bound to follow our dicta in a prior case in which the point now at issue was not fully debated”); Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 627–628, 55 S.Ct. 869, 79 L.Ed. 1611 (1935) (rejecting, under stare decisis, dicta, “which may be followed if sufficiently persuasive but wh......
  • Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority, Nos. 403
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 17, 1936
    ...error to a State court from the Supreme Court of the United States.' 11 A notable recent example is Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, page 626 et seq., 55 S.Ct. 869, 79 L.Ed. 1611, which limited Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 47 S.Ct. 21, 71 L.Ed. 160, disapproving i......
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    • United States
    • JD Supra United States
    • April 1, 2022
    ...the president’s exercise of removal powers in relation to appointed heads of independent agencies. Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 631-32 (1935). President Biden’s proponents, on the other hand, will point to Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Seila Law L......
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    ...command and control. 193 It is one thing for a court to the exclusive direction of the President.”); Humphrey’s Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602, 621-27 (1935) (concluding that the president lacks authority to dismiss an agency oicial on his own grounds if the governing statute lists......
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    ...full SEC constitutes the “Head” of that department. 71. E.g. , Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654 (1988); Humphrey’s Ex’r v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935); United States v. Perkins, 116 U.S. 483 (1886). 72. Free Enter. Fund , 130 S. Ct. at 3153. 73. Id . at 3154. Copyright © 2010 Environm......
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