Myers v. United States

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Myers v. United States
Argued December 5, 1923
Reargued April 13–14, 1925
Decided October 25, 1926
Full case nameFrank S. Myers, Administratrix v. United States
Citations272 U.S. 52 (more)
47 S. Ct. 21; 71 L. Ed. 160; 1926 U.S. LEXIS 35
Case history
PriorAppeal from the Court of Claims
The President has the exclusive authority to remove executive branch officials.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William H. Taft
Associate Justices
Oliver W. Holmes Jr. · Willis Van Devanter
James C. McReynolds · Louis Brandeis
George Sutherland · Pierce Butler
Edward T. Sanford · Harlan F. Stone
Case opinions
MajorityTaft, joined by Van Devanter, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford, Stone
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. II, § 2, cl. 2

Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52 (1926), was a United States Supreme Court decision ruling that the President has the exclusive power to remove executive branch officials, and does not need the approval of the Senate or any other legislative body. It was distinguished in 1935 by Humphrey's Executor v. United States. However, in Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (2020), the Supreme Court interpreted Myers as establishing that the President generally has unencumbered removal power. Myers was the first Supreme Court case to address the president's removal powers.


In 1920, Frank S. Myers, a First-Class Postmaster in Portland, Oregon, was removed from office by President Woodrow Wilson.[1] An 1876 federal law provided that "Postmasters of the first, second, and third classes shall be appointed and may be removed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate." Myers argued that his dismissal violated this law, and he was entitled to back pay for the unfilled portion of his four-year term.[2]


Chief Justice (and former President) William Howard Taft, writing for the Court, noted that the Constitution mentions the appointment of officials but is silent on their dismissal. He proceeded to conduct a voluminous examination on the history of the President's removal power.

Taft first examined the notes of the Constitutional Convention and found its silence on the subject to be intentional. The Convention had discussed the dismissal of executive-branch staff and believed that it was implicit in the Constitution that the President held the exclusive power to remove his staff, whose existence was an extension of the President's own authority.[3]

Taft then discussed the Decision of 1789 and said that the decision indicated that a "considerable majority" of Congress were in "favor of declaring the power of removal to be in the President."[4]

Taft finally analyzed subsequent congressional debates over the issue.[5]

The Court therefore found that the statute was unconstitutional, as it violated the separation of powers between the executive and the legislative branches. In reaching its decision, the Court also expressly found the Tenure of Office Act, which had imposed a similar requirement on other Presidential appointees and was known for playing a key role in the impeachment of Andrew Johnson during the Reconstruction era, to have been invalid. The Act, however, had been repealed by Congress some years before the Court's decision.[6]

As would be important in subsequent cases, dicta in Taft's opinion suggested that Congress could never qualify the President's removal power.[5]


In a lengthy dissent, Justice McReynolds used an equally exhaustive analysis of quotes from members of the Constitutional Convention and, writing that he found no language in the Constitution or in the notes from the Convention intended to grant the President the "illimitable power" to fire every appointed official "as caprice may suggest" in the entire government, with the exception of judges.[7]

In a separate dissent, Justice Brandeis wrote that the fundamental case deciding the power of the Supreme Court, Marbury v. Madison, "assumed, as the basis of decision, that the President, acting alone, is powerless to remove an inferior civil officer appointed for a fixed term with the consent of the Senate; and that case was long regarded as so deciding."[8]

In a third dissent, Justice Holmes noted that it was within the power of Congress to abolish the position of Postmaster entirely, not to mention to set the position's pay and duties, and he had no problem believing Congress also ought to be able to set terms of the position's occupiers.[9]

Precedential value[edit]

Myers was the first case to concern congressional limitations on the President's removal power.[5] In 1935, in Humphrey's Executor v. United States, the Supreme Court distinguished Myers and disavowed its dicta.[5] Humphrey's distinguished executive officers from officers occupying "quasi-legislative" or "quasi-judicial" positions. The majority opinion stated that:[10]

[The] Myers case dealt with the removal of a postmaster, an executive officer restricted to executive functions and charged with no duty at all related to either the legislative or the judicial power. The actual decision in the Myers case finds support in the theory that such an officer is merely one of the units in the executive department, and, hence, inherently subject to the exclusive and illimitable power of removal by the Chief Executive, whose subordinate he is. That decision goes no farther than to include purely executive officers.

In Seila Law LLC v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (2020), the Court "interpreted Myers as establishing a general rule of unencumbered presidential removal authority for all executive officers."[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Myers, 272 U.S. at 57.
  2. ^ Myers, 272 U.S. at 59.
  3. ^ Myers, 272 U.S. at 110-11.
  4. ^ Myers, 272 U.S. at 111-14.
  5. ^ a b c d e Mashaw, Jerry L. (August 27, 2020). "Of Angels, Pins, and For-Cause Removal: A Requiem for the Passive Virtues". The University of Chicago Law Review Online. Retrieved November 30, 2021.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ Myers, 272 U.S. at 176.
  7. ^ Myers, 272 U.S. at 239 (McReynolds, J., dissenting).
  8. ^ Myers, 272 U.S. at 272 (McReynolds, J., dissenting).
  9. ^ Myers, 272 U.S. at 177 (Holmes, J., dissenting).
  10. ^ Humphrey's Executor v. United States, 295 U.S. 602 (1935) at p.295.

External links[edit]