Debunking Humphrey's Executor

40 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2015

See all articles by Daniel A. Crane

Daniel A. Crane

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: February 1, 2015


The Supreme Court’s 1935 Humphrey’s Executor decision paved the way for the modern administrative state by holding that Congress could constitutionally limit the President’s powers to remove heads of regulatory agencies. The Court articulated a quartet of features of the Federal Trade Commission’s statutory design that ostensibly justified the Commission’s constitutional independence. It was to be non-partisan and a-political, uniquely expert, and performing quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial, rather than executive, functions. In recent years, the staying power of Humphrey’s Executor has been called into question as a matter of constitutional design. This article reconsiders Humphrey’s Executor from a different angle. At the end of a one hundred years natural experiment, the Commission bears almost no resemblance to the Progressive-technocratic vision articulated by the Court. The Commission is not politically independent, uniquely expert, or principally legislative or adjudicative. Rather, it is essentially a law enforcement agency beholden to the will of Congress. This finding has potentially important implications for agency design, constitutional doctrine and theory, and understanding of agency functioning.

Keywords: Unitary executive, administrative law, Federal Trade Commission, FTC, Humphrey's executor, removal power

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

Crane, Daniel A., Debunking Humphrey's Executor (February 1, 2015). U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 438, Available at SSRN: or

Daniel A. Crane (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
734-615-2622 (Phone)

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