Power of the President to Guide Enforcement of the Penal Law.

This matter also came to a head in “the reign of An- drew Jackson,” preceding, and indeed foreshadowing, the Duane episode by some months. “At that epoch,” Wyman relates in his Principles of Administrative Law, “the first amendment of the doctrine of centralism in its entirety was set forth in an obscure opinion upon an unimportant matter—The Jewels of the Princess of Orange, 2 Opin. 482 (1831). These jewels . . . were stolen from the Princess by one Polari and were seized by the officers of the United States Customs in the hands of the thief. Representations were made to the President of the United States by the Minister of the Netherlands of the facts in the matter, which were followed by a request for return of the jewels. In the meantime the District Attorney was prosecuting condemnation proceedings in behalf of the United States which he showed no disposition to abandon. The President felt himself in a dilemma, whether if it was by statute the duty of the District Attorney to prosecute or not, the President could interfere and direct whether to proceed or not. The opinion was written by Taney, then Attorney General; it is full of pertinent illustrations as to the necessity in an administration of full power in the chief executive as the concomitant of his full responsibility. It concludes: If it should be said that, the District Attorney having the power to discontinue the prosecution, there is no necessity for inferring a right in the President to direct him to exercise it—I answer that the direction of the President is not required to communicate any new authority to the District Attorney, but to direct him in the execution of a power he is admitted to possess. The most valuable and proper measure may often be for the President to order the District Attorney to discontinue prosecution. The District Attorney might refuse to obey the President’s order; and if he did refuse, the prosecution, while he remained in office, would still go on; because the President himself could give no order to the court or to the clerk to make any particular entry. He could only act through his subordinate officer, the District Attorney, who is responsible to him and who holds his office at his pleasure. And if that officer still continues a prosecution which the President is satisfied ought not to continue, the removal of the disobedient officer and the substitution of one more worthy in his place would enable the President through him faithfully to execute the law. And it is for this among other reasons that the power of removing the District Attorney resides in the President.”743

Footnotes

743
B. WYMAN, THE PRINCIPLES OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW GOVERNING THE RELATIONS OF PUBLIC OFFICERS 231–32 (1903). [Back to text]