Could a president fire a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission?
Sure, says John McCain. Probably not, says the U.S. Supreme Court.
McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, Thursday said that if elected, he would ax SEC Chairman Christopher Cox. But though the president nominates the SEC head, and he must be confirmed by the Senate, legal precedent strongly suggests the chief executive can't fire him.
In 1935, for instance, President Roosevelt tried to fire a Federal Trade Commission member. The Supreme Court called the action unjustified and, according to a court summary, "reasoned that the Constitution had never given 'illimitable power of removal' to the president."
McCain's camp contends that at the very least, the president can pressure a member into resigning.
And, it adds, since the president designates the chairman, he can remove him.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds told MSNBC the president "reserves the right to request the resignation of an appointee, and maintain the customary expectation that it will be delivered."
Cox, a former Republican congressman named by President Bush in 2005, still has Bush's support. Cox's term ends in June 2009, and he has indicated he will leave when Bush leaves office in January.
But for the moment, Cox issued a statement telling McCain he's staying, for now.
“While I have great respect for Sen. McCain, we have sometimes disagreed, and this is one such occasion," Cox said in a statement. "The SEC has made plain that we have zero tolerance for naked short selling. In this market crisis, the men and women of the SEC have responded valiantly, as they always do –- with the utmost dedication and professionalism."
To see details of the 1935 Supreme Court ruling: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1901-1939/1934/1934_667/
To read Chairman Cox's statement: http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2008/2008-210.htm