February 28, 2018

Summarily terminating a federal officer holding a term appointment from his or her position


NYPPL earlier summarized the decision in PHH Corporation v Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a decision in which the United States Circuit Court of Appeals,  District of Columbia Circuit  considered the issue of summarily removing a public officer holding a term appointment from his or her position.*

In PHH the Circuit Court concluded that a federal administrator appointed for a fixed term of office may only be removed for cause after notice and hearing. In particular the court ruled that the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB] is constitutional and that its director can be terminated by the President only for cause.

In the words of the majority of the Circuit Court, sitting en banc: "Applying binding Supreme Court precedent, we see no constitutional defect in the statute preventing the President from firing the CFPB Director without cause."

Is the PHH decision relevant with respect to an effort by the President to summarily remove Special Counsel Robert Mueller from his position?

In this reviewer's opinion, PHH probably would not control as the Special Counsel currently so serving has not been appointed for a fixed term of office. 

However, 28 CFR 600.7(d) provides as follows:

"(d) The Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General [or under the present circumstances, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein]. The Attorney General may remove a Special Counsel for misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies. The Attorney General shall inform the Special Counsel in writing of the specific reason for his or her removal."

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein's letter to Mr. Mueller** setting out the terms and conditions of his appointment as Special Counsel states that §§600.4 through 600.10 of the Code of Federal Regulations are applicable to the Special Counsel.

Further, 28 CFR 600.9 Notification and Reports by the Attorney General, in pertinent part, provides:

"(a) The Attorney General will notify the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Judiciary Committees of each House of Congress, with an explanation for each action -

"(2) Upon removing any Special Counsel."

Although not specifically so stated in 28 CFR 600.7(d), "due process of law" may require that the removal of a Special Counsel be effected only upon his or her  being found guilty of "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies" after notice and hearing.

*The PPH decision is posted on the Internet at:

** The appointment letter is posted on the Internet at:

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