A very interesting question, raised in Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, Inc. v. Copyright Royalty Board, a certiorari petition now pending before the Court. Profs. John Duffy (Virginia), Peter Strauss (Columbia), and Michael Herz (Cardozo) — an illustrious trio who often take quite different views about other subjects — have an item about this at Concurring Opinions; here’s an excerpt (click on the Concurring Opinions post for links):
Earlier this year, more than 100,000 citizens petitioned the White House to overturn a copyright rule issued by the Librarian of Congress that made unlocking a cell phone a crime. The White House responded by promising to seek legislation to overturn the Librarian’s rule. That was the most the President would or could do because “[t]he law gives the Librarian the authority,” and the Administration would “respect that process,” even though the Librarian acted contrary to the Administration’s views. See here. As the New York Times reported, “because the Library of Congress, and therefore the copyright office, are part of the legislative branch, the White House cannot simply overturn the current ruling.” See here.
There’s only one problem with all of this: The Department of Justice has been vigorously arguing precisely the contrary constitutional position in the federal courts.
According to the Administration’s filings in litigation that has now reached the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress is “an executive Department,” and the Librarian himself is “subject to plenary oversight by the President.” Justice Department lawyers have explained that Congress made a “purposeful decision to place the Library under the President’s direct control and supervision”; that the Librarian of Congress is the “Head” of this “executive Department”; that the President may remove the Librarian “at will” just as he may remove other heads of executive departments; and that this removal power creates