Mass Resignation as a Political Constraint

There are many formal and informal limits on government power. One that probably does not receive enough attention is the prospect that certain actions with lead to a mass resignation of officials such that the government official either (a) gets crushed politically or (b) cannot effectively function.

Let’s take some recent examples. First, after the allegations of sexual harassment came out against Judge Kozinski, his law clerks quit. Then he apparently couldn’t get replacements. Perhaps he would have retired from the bench in any event, but perhaps he simply concluded that he could not function without clerks.

Second, why doesn’t the President just fire Rod Rosenstein if he thinks that the DOJ is rigged? One thought is that the political blowback from that would just be too great. Another possibility, though, is that others in the DOJ ranging from the Attorney General to the Solicitor General may have made it know that they will also resign. At some point, a “Saturday Night Massacre” scenario leaves only civil servants to manage some Cabinet agency, which presents a President with a serious problem beyond the optics. Something like this was threatened by DOJ officials (included James Comey) back during the Bush Administration.

Actually, the most striking example of a mass resignation is not well known. When President John Tyler vetoed a bill that would have created the Third Bank of the United States, his entire Cabinet (except the Secretary of State) resigned in protest. (Imagine something like that happening today.) In this case, though, the threat of resigning or the actual resignations did not work–Tyler’s veto was sustained and the Third Bank was never created.

One wonders how many other examples there are that are just shrouded in secrecy.

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1 Response

  1. Brett Bellmore says:

    In the case of Rosenstein, I suspect it’s not so much the prospect of mass resignations, which Trump might actually welcome. It’s the prospect of mass Senatorial refusal to act on nominations replacing the resigned.