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Supreme Court Debates President's Right To Fire Federal Agency Head Without Cause

Supreme Court Debates President's Right To Fire Federal Agency Head Without Cause

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case concerning the power of the president to fire the head of a federal agency without cause.

Presidential Oversight Of CFPB In Question

The judges of the High Court  were divided in their remarks, mostly by political leaning, over whether the president can fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for any reason. The CFPB is a single-director agency that was created as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed in the aftermath of the global financial crisis in 2010. 

Seila Law LLC, a California-based firm, sued the CFPB and argued that the agency did not have the right to investigate on the basis of it being unconstitutionally insulated from presidential oversight. 

The CFPB director is appointed by the president and approved by the Congress for a five-year term. The president has the power to fire the CFPB director for probable causes including "inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office," according to The Associated Press

Kavanaugh Sees Trouble For Next President 

Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said the limits on presidential power would actually spell trouble for their immediate successor.

"It's really the next [president] who's going to face the issue, because the head of this agency will go at least three or four years into the next [president's] term, and the [next president] might have a completely different conception of consumer financial regulatory issues yet will be able to do nothing about it," Kavanaugh said.

Dubbing the scenario "troubling," Kavanaugh said the CFPB is different from multi-member agencies like the Federal Trade Commission or the Securities and Exchange Commission. 

Court-appointed lawyer Paul Clement, arguing for the defense, said the president can't even immediately remove the heads of the multi-member agencies.

Independence Saves Agencies From ‘Political Football,' Lawyer Says 

In further arguments, Clement said that the independence of the agencies is required to serve the best interest of the people despite politics.

Taking the example of the recent novel coronavirus outbreak, Clement said a pandemic disease is being made into a political football. 

"You know what makes sense, let's have the head of [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] be protected by for-cause removal because that'll make sure people get good advice and it doesn't become political," Clement said.

"That is the kind of sensible decision that Congress has been making for over 100 years."

On the liberal side of the bench, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the restrictions on presidential power are modest. 

"[It] stops the president from at whim removing someone, replacing someone with someone who is loyal to the president rather than to the consumers that the Bureau is set up to serve," Ginsburg said.

A decision in the case is expected by June, according to the AP. 


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