Is a Pay Czar constitutional?
Those of us who are asking whether a “czar”, who is not under Congressional oversight, is allowed under the Constitution to set wages in private industry have an answer by Michael McConnell:
The Pay Czar Is Unconstitutional
Kenneth Feinberg hasn’t been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
So who is Kenneth Feinberg, and where did he get the power to set pay for executives at private firms?
As part of the hastily enacted and seldom-read legislation establishing the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to “require each TARP recipient to meet appropriate standards for executive compensation.” To carry out this task, last June the Treasury promulgated an emergency “Interim Final Rule,” waiving ordinary requirements for a public comment period.
As part of this emergency rule, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner created the office of “Special Master” for compensation, delegated his TARP authority to set compensation standards to this officer, and appointed Mr. Feinberg (a lawyer and mediator) to this position, without obtaining Senate confirmation.
Therein lies the problem. The Appointments clause of the Constitution, Article II, section 2, provides that all “Officers of the United States” must be appointed by the president “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” This means subject to confirmation, except that “the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment” of “inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.”
There is no doubt that Mr. Feinberg is an “officer” of the United States. The Supreme Court has defined this term (Buckley v. Valeo, 1976) as “any appointee exercising significant authority pursuant to the laws of the United States.” Mr. Feinberg signed last week’s orders setting pay levels for executives at Bank of America, AIG, Chrysler Financial, Citigroup, GMAC, General Motors and Chrysler. They have the force of law and are surely an exercise of “significant authority” pursuant to an Act of Congress. He is not a mere “employee,” acting at the direction of a superior. That means his office is subject to the requirements of the Appointments Clause.
While somewhat more disputable, Mr. Feinberg’s is probably an “inferior” officer, defined as one subject to supervision and removal by a member of the cabinet. Although he has substantial discretion and independence, Mr. Feinberg reports to the secretary of the Treasury, who can fire him any time for any reason. This means that Congress could, if it wished, vest the appointment of the pay czar in the secretary, without any need for Senate confirmation.
But Congress has not done so. On the contrary, it vested the authority to implement TARP’s compensation provision in the secretary of the Treasury. The secretary may sub-delegate that power to someone else—but that someone must be an “officer” properly appointed “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.”
Which, of course, he hasn’t. Otherwise he wouldn’t be a “czar”.
Congress and Congress alone has power to dispense with the safeguard of the confirmation process.
Maybe it’s time one of those executives sues.