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Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. 714 (1986) p.385


separation of powers


In order to eliminate the federal budget deficit, Congress enacted the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (Act), popularly known as the "Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act," which sets a maximum deficit amount for federal spending for each of the fiscal years 1986 through 1991 (progressively reducing the deficit amount to zero in 1991). The President in turn must issue a "sequestration" order mandating the spending reductions specified by the Comptroller General, and the sequestration order becomes effective unless, within a specified time, Congress legislates reductions to obviate the need for the sequestration order. The Act also contains in 274(f) a "fallback" deficit reduction process (eliminating the Comptroller General's participation) to take effect if 251's reporting provisions are invalidated.


Whether the Act is Constitutional.


The court held, inter alia, that the Comptroller General's role in exercising executive functions under the Act's deficit reduction process violated the constitutionally imposed doctrine of separation of powers because the Comptroller General is removable only [478 U.S. 714, 715] by a congressional joint resolution or by impeachment, and Congress may not retain the power of removal over an officer performing executive powers


Under the constitutional principle of separation of powers, Congress cannot reserve for itself the power of removal of an officer charged with the execution of the laws except by impeachment. There is no merit to the contention that the Comptroller General performs his duties independently and is not subservient to Congress. Under 251 of the Act, the Comptroller General has been improperly assigned executive powers. It is not necessary to consider whether the appropriate remedy is to nullify the 1921 statutory provisions that authorize Congress to remove the Comptroller General, rather than to invalidate 251 of the Act.


This is in the Chada line of cases. Use to remind you of what happens when someone does something in the wrong branch. White dissent says the Court is too formalistic.

Created on: Wednesday, October 13, 1999 at 15:24:01 (PDT)

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