The Librarian of Congress

The Library of Congress is a source of several constitutional curiosities.  One is that the Librarian of Congress is nominated by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and serves for life.  As far as I can tell, this makes him (only men have been the Librarian of Congress) the only non-Article III constitutional officer with life tenure.  The Library has been around since 1800, but there have been only 13 Librarians.  (There have been 17 Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, for all of you keeping score at home.)

Another issue is the source of Congress’s authority to create the Library in the first place.  The answer seems to be that creating what was essentially a research resource for Congress was considered part of its inherent power; there was no enumerated power involved (unless, I suppose, you say that because the Library was situated in the District of Columbia that fell within Congress’s plenary power there).

UPDATE:  Marty Lederman, who is THE expert on all things Executive Branch, points out in the comments that the Librarian actually can be removed by the President–it just hasn’t happened since Andrew Jackson’s day.

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5 Responses

  1. Shag from Brookline says:

    I recall a joke going back to the early 1940s about an employment ad for a librarian at a low salary, with the punchline that the job includes as a perk “all the books you can read.” What is the compensation of the Librarian of Congress?

  2. Ken Rhodes says:

    I am intrigued by your mention of Congress’ authority to create as an issue. Was that debated at some time?

    If that’s questionable, for something as apolitical as the Library, I should think it have been a BIG issue for other Congressional support staff organizations like the CBO and the GAO?

  3. Joe says:

    Wikipedia tells me the library arose from funds “for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress …, and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them.”

    Sounds like it is “necessary and proper” to carry out its duties. It also served as a resource for the Supreme Court, also serving a need for information relevant to its duties.

  4. Marty Lederman says:

    The Librarian does not have statutorily protected life tenure. He is an officer appointed by the President; and the statute does not establish a term of office or impose limits on removal, which means that the President has plenary authority to remove the Librarian at will (an incident of the power of appointment, see, e.g., Ex parte Hennen). Indeed, Andrew Jackson removed the Librarian from office in 1829 after the Librarian publicly criticized the President and his family. 29 Cong. Rec. 378.

    If the President did not have such removal power, *that* would raise a serious constitutional problem, because then arguably the Librarian would be an agent of Congress with the authority to execute laws (especially certain copyright laws) — something that the antiaggrandizement rule of Bowsher v. Synar proscribes. The President’s appointment and removal power eliminate this constitutional problem, even if it is highly unlikely the President would exercise his removal power. See 20 Op. OLC at 172-173 & n.127.

  5. C.T. says:

    This post reminds me of a funny story I was once told by a longtime LoC employee. Apparently, when Bill Clinton was elected he had expressed an interest in replacing James Billington with his own appointment. The story goes that Clinton had actually set motion to this plan and that Billington was informed that he was to step down as librarian. However, Billington insisted that he would only step down if Bill Clinton personally delivered the order. This move proved to be quite effective, as Clinton was not interested enough in replacing Billington to actually follow through and personally ask him to step down. As such, Billington has remained in the position ever since…