357 U.S. 349 (1958), argued 18 Nov. 1957, decided 30 June 1958 by vote of 9 to 0; Frankfurter for the Court. The Constitution is silent on the removal powers of the president. In Myers v. United States (1926), the Supreme Court had held that a president had the absolute right, without concurrence by the Senate, to remove executive-branch officers whom he had appointed and that Congress had no authority to limit this removal power. In dicta, Chief Justice William Howard Taft also claimed that the president had constitutional authority to remove administrators “who perform duties of a quasi-judicial character” (p. 352). In Humphrey's Executor v. United States (1935) this far-reaching claim of inherent presidential power was curtailed; the Court held that Congress could protect the independence of agencies that exercised “quasi-legislative” and “quasi-judicial” functions by prohibiting the president from removing commissioners “except for cause” (p. 629).
The facts in Wiener were strikingly similar to those in Humphrey's Executor, and so was the result. Wiener was appointed to the War Claims Commission by President Harry Truman. Under the War Claims Act, commissioners were to serve for the life of the commission; there was no provision made for removal. In 1953 President Dwight Eisenhower asked Wiener to step down. Wiener declined, and Eisenhower removed him. Wiener then filed suit with the Court of Claims for back pay from the date of his removal to the end of the life of the commission. The Court of Claims dismissed his suit, but the Supreme Court unanimously reversed.
Writing for the Court, Justice Felix Frankfurter solidly endorsed both the philosophy and the holding of Humphrey's Executor. The War Claims Commission, like the Federal Trade Commission in the earlier case, was a quasi-judicial body whose officials were protected from removal by the president without good cause.
Joel B. Grossman