The Presidency and the Constitution

"The President as Chief Executive"


In order to make the federal government energetic and responsible, the Framers of the Constitution vested the executive power in a unitary presidency. The Framers understood that the president would need assistants to help him fulfill his constitutional duty. While the Constitution gives clear instruction on executive appointments, the text is unclear regarding the dismissal of executive officers. Although the first Congress confirmed the president’s exclusive power of removal in 1789, this understanding has been slowly reversed by the judiciary beginning in 1935. The modern president, contrary to the Founders’ theory, has very little power with regard to removal of subordinate officers.


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Recommended Readings

Discussion Questions

  • Why is it important for a president to be able to exercise exclusive removal power?
  • What was the practical effect of the Supreme Court decision in Humphrey’s Executor v. United States (1935)?
  • Should the Senate’s check on presidential appointments allow the Senate a role in the removal of executive officers? 

Q & A Session

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Kevin Portteus is an Associate Professor of Politics at Hillsdale College, where he has taught since 2008. Dr. Portteus is faculty advisor for the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program, and teaches courses in American political thought and American political institutions.

A visiting graduate faculty member in the American History and Government program at Ashland University, Dr. Portteus formerly taught at Belmont Abbey College and Mountain View College, in Dallas. Having published online through the Washington Times, Human Events, and, his book, Executive Details: Public Administration and American Constitutionalism, is under review for publication. He received his B.A., summa cum laude, from Ashland University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in politics from the University of Dallas.