Bowsher v. Synar

Facts

An Act passed by Congress permitted certain levels of budgetary deficit, with the eventual goal of eliminating the deficit altogether.  The act provided that if deficit levels exceeded a particular level, there would be across the board cuts, which would be recommended by the OMB and CBO directors and evaluated by the Comptroller General who then made a recommendation to the President.  The President would then be required to create an executive order to make cuts pursuant to the Comptroller’s recommendation.  If Congress in the meantime decided to make the appropriate level cuts before the Comptoller’s recommendation reached the President’s desk, those would go in effect instead.  The Comptroller is classified as an official of the legislature.

Issue

(1) Whether the Comptroller’s powers of evaluating the budgetary cuts recommended by the OMB and CBO, for which the President must execute is an unconstitutional delegation of executive authority to an official outside the executive branch.

(2) Whether Congress can remove the Comptroller – who is assigned to executive tasks – by impeachment.

Holding/Analysis

(1)  Yes, law validated.  Congress cannot delegate executive authority to an agent of the legislature.  This, in effect, takes away power for the executive.  The Comptroller’s role in evaluating the budget cuts recommended by the OMB and CBO directors would be constitutional, were his recommendations not binding on the President.  The role of the Comptroller, in this instance, is “the very essence” of executive power.  The executive acts as an executive when he interprets an Act for its execution, then commands the executive branch to execute the law as he determines.

(2)  No, law invalidated.  Giving Congress impeachment power of a federal official tasked with the execution of laws, effectively makes the officer responsive only to Congress.  With the threat of job loss looming, the official is not able to faithfully execute the laws.  The impeachment power, therefore, gives Congress executive authority it should not have by beholding the officer to their will  As such, the impeachment power is contrary to the separation of powers doctrine.

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