In the PolitiFact article Can Donald Trump fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller?, law professor Ric Simmons is quoted:

The Supreme Court has stated (outside the special counsel context) that only the government official who appointed an employee has the power to fire that employee.

To what extent is this statement, supposedly by the US Supreme Court, true?

I would like to learn more about this, but I was not able to find any relevant cases or other material. Non-examples include

  • Myers v. United States (Congress cannot require Senate advice and consent for POTUS to remove appointees)
  • Humphrey's Executor v. United States (POTUS can only remove quasi-legislative appointees for cause)
  • Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (statute held that PCAOB's board members could be removed only for cause by SEC members; SCOTUS changed to at will)
  • Only the office, maybe. Otherwise there are more than enough changes and reappointments per new president to serve as counterexamples.
    – cHao
    Apr 13, 2018 at 18:59
  • @cHao I imagine that until I find a citation I won't know exactly what was meant, but that's a decent guess.
    – Charles
    Apr 13, 2018 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


I think we're talking about In re Hennen, which dealt with the removal of the clerk of the district court in Louisiana:

It all these departments power is given to the secretary, to appoint all necessary clerks; 1 Story, 48; and although no power to remove is expressly given, yet there can be no doubt, that these clerks hold their office at the will and discretion of the head of the department. It would be a most extraordinary construction of the law, that all these offices were to be held during life, which must inevitably follow, unless the incumbent was removable at the discretion of the head of the department: the President has certainly no power to remove. These clerks fall under that class of inferior officers, the appointment of which the Constitution authorizes Congress to vest in the head of the department. The same rule, as to the power of removal, must be applied to offices where the appointment is vested in the President alone. The nature of the power, and the control over the officer appointed, does not at all depend on the source from which it emanates. The execution of the power depends upon the authority of law, and not upon the agent who is to administer it. And the Constitution has authorized Congress, in certain cases, to vest this power in the President alone, in the Courts of law, or in the heads of departments; and all inferior officers appointed under each, by authority of law, must hold their office at the discretion of the appointing power. Such is the settled usage and practical construction of the Constitution and laws, under which these offices are held.

In re Hennen, 38 U.S. 230, 259–60, 10 L. Ed. 138 (1839) (emphasis added).

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