WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the president is free to fire the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau without cause. The decision, rejecting a federal law that sought to place limits on presidential oversight of independent agencies, was a victory for the conservative movement to curb the administrative state.
The ruling puts to rest a decade of doubt over whether the bureau and its leadership structure, in which the director is appointed by the president to a five-year term and cannot be dismissed without a substantial reason, were constitutional. While the narrow decision validates the agency’s existence, it could also open it to greater politicization, effectively turning its director into something akin to a cabinet member who serves at the pleasure of a president.
The vote was 5 to 4, with the court’s five more conservative justices in the majority. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, said the Constitution did not allow powerful agency officials to be insulated from some kinds of executive oversight.
“The C.F.P.B. director has no boss, peers or voters to report to,” the chief justice wrote. “Yet the director wields vast rule making, enforcement and adjudicatory authority over a significant portion of the U.S. economy. The question before us is whether this arrangement violates the Constitution’s separation of powers.”
He said that it did, but he stopped short of stripping the agency of its other powers, which include setting rules, conducting investigations and bringing enforcement actions.
“The C.F.P.B. director’s removal protection is severable from the other statutory provisions bearing on the C.F.P.B.’s