A new Supreme Court
decision could pave the way for President Joe Biden
to fire the Trump administration
's Social Security
Biden has resisted calls from prominent Democrats
on Capitol Hill
to fire Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul
, at least in part because federal law states
that the commissioner can be fired only for "neglect of duty or malfeasance in office."
In other words, it's not enough that the agency has enraged Democrats by reducing disability
benefits eligibility and fighting unions
that represent the agency's massive workforce.
However, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that a similar restriction in the case of the Federal Housing Finance Agency
director, who could only be removed “for cause” before their term expired, was unconstitutional. The White House
immediately announced that it would replace Mark Calabria, whom Trump appointed to a five-year term in 2018.
The Supreme Court held Wednesday in its Collins v. Yellen decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, that the “removal power helps the President maintain a degree of control over the subordinates he needs to carry out his duties” and that it ensures “that these subordinates serve the people
effectively and in accordance with the policies that the people presumably elected the President to promote.”
In a footnote, the court acknowledged that other agencies have similar leadership structures, but stated that “we do not comment on the constitutionality of any removal restriction that applies to their officers.” Nonetheless, this is the second time the court has said that Congress
cannot prevent the president from firing an agency head, following a decision last year that Donald Trump
could replace the director of the CIA.
In a concurring opinion issued on Wednesday, Justice Elena Kagan stated that “a bet person might wager that the agency's removal provision is next on the chopping block.”
A request for comment from the White House was not immediately returned.
Detractors of Saul said the ruling on Wednesday made it clear that Biden could fire Saul, whose term expires in 2025.
“The Supreme Court reiterated today what we have long known: there is nothing stopping President Biden from removing the current Commissioner of Social Security, Andrew Saul,” said Alex Lawson, director of the progressive advocacy group Social Security Works, in an email.
Saul and deputy Commissioner David Black
, according to Lawson, were “put in their roles by former President Trump to sabotage Social Security and destroy it from within,” and they should be fired “today.”
Under Saul's leadership, the Social Security Administration worked to achieve long-standing Republican
goals of reducing enrollment in disability programs for workers and the poor by instituting new eligibility limits and increasing reviews of disability claimants who were already approved for benefits.
Ralph de Juliis, president of AFGE Council 220, which represents Social Security workers, stated that Saul had earned his potential dismissal by infuriating the agency's workers by restricting telework prior to the pandemic
and delaying stimulus checks
to millions of Social Security recipients this year.
“Council 220 believes that today’s decision gives President Biden ample latitude to fire Saul for cause and replace him with someone committed to investing in and improving Social Security,” de Juliis said.
Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who has called for Saul's dismissal, said he hadn't read the new Supreme Court decision yet and wouldn't speculate on whether it gave Biden more leeway to make a change at Social Security.
“I’ll rely on the president’s vast experience,” Larson told Stardia, adding that “it’s clear that he’d like to have his own person in there.”