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Bowsher v. Synar

(1986)

Supreme Court of the United States - 478 U.S. 714

tl;dr:

The doctrine of separation of powers is violated when Congress delegates executive branch functions to the Comptroller General and has the authority to remove the Comptroller General under the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act.

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Facts & HoldingBowsher v. Synar case brief facts & holding

Facts:Congress enacted the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act to decrease the federal budget...

Holding:Holding (Burger): The separation of powers doctrine provides that the...

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Bowsher v. Synar | Case Brief DeepDive
Majority opinion, author: Chief Justice Burger
Level 1
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The legal case examines whether the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 violates the separation of powers doctrine by assigning executive functions to the Comptroller General, who is removable only by Congress. The Supreme Court ruled that this arrangement is unconstitutional as it violates the principle of separation of powers and the need for checks and balances to protect liberty. Congress cannot participate in the removal of Executive Branch officers, and any direct congressional role in removing officers beyond impeachment would violate the separation of powers. The Court upheld the fallback provisions in § 274(f) of the Act but affirmed that the powers given to the Comptroller General under § 251 violate the Constitution's separation of powers. The Court stayed the judgment for up to 60 days to allow Congress to implement the fallback provisions.

Opinion (Concurrence), author: Justice Stevens
Level 1
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The passage discusses the unconstitutionality of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act due to the Comptroller General's exercise of executive powers assigned to him by the Act. The author argues that the Comptroller General is an agent of Congress and that the Act improperly gives him policy-making powers that should be reserved for Congress. The passage explains that Congress can delegate responsibilities to agents who support its legislative activities, but the responsibilities assigned to the Comptroller General in this case are unique and distinct from these delegations. If Congress could delegate its policymaking authority to one of its components or agents, it would be able to evade constitutional restraints.

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Dissenting opinion, author: Justice White
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Justice White dissented from the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, arguing that the Act's automatic budget-reduction mechanism, which relies on the Comptroller General's exercise of executive powers, does not violate the constitutional scheme of separation of powers. The Comptroller General's powers under the Act do not interfere with Presidential powers, as appropriating funds is a legislative function. Delegating the execution of this legislation to an officer independent of the President's will is reasonable and proper. The Comptroller, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, is not an agent of Congress and can exercise "executive" authority without question. The congressional removal provision allowing the Comptroller to be removed through joint resolution satisfies the bicameralism and presentment requirements of Art. I. The existence of the removal provision poses no threat to the principle of separation of powers.

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Dissenting opinion, author: Justice Blackmun
Level 1
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Justice Blackmun dissents from the Court's opinion that Congress cannot constitutionally exercise removal authority over an official with budget-reduction powers. The author of the opinion believes that the plaintiffs are not entitled to the relief they have requested, which is nullification of the automatic budget-reduction provisions of the Deficit Control Act. The District Court set aside the statute challenged by the plaintiffs after finding that the Comptroller General's functions under the Deficit Control Act were constitutionally incompatible with the 1921 removal provision. However, the author of the opinion disagrees with this approach, as it would lead to arbitrary decisions based on who files suit first. The author suggests that the only reasonable way to choose between two conjunctively unconstitutional statutory provisions is to determine which provision can be invalidated with the least disruption of congressional objectives.

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