Confirming the Munchkins

Responding to Mark Kleimain‘s complaint that, “Too much of the action [in the U.S. Attorney firing kerfuffle] is in the non-confirmable munchkins like Monica Goodling,” Steven Teles observes,

Congress has the power to classify any executive branch position it wishes to as subject to confirmation. The constitution states that, “the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.” “May” is the operable word. The power to subject inferior officers to confirmation is in fact the most powerful weapon that Congress has against stocking the executive branch with officials whose primary credential is fidelity to the president’s program, rather than a more general competence at governing. Simply threatening to go deeper into the munchkin pile is likely to have wholesome effects, and certainly actually doing it would have unquestionable effects. The real problem is that it already takes a very long time to get a new president’s nominees through the confirmation process–the question is whether we want to make that any worse. But, at the least, it is possible to start with a single department where there are reasons to believe that excessively partisan selection principles are at work, and then see if that gets the message out more broadly.

That’s the natural ebb and flow of the system of checks and balances the Framers put in place. As a practical matter, as Teles suggests, there are too many confirmable appointees already to add many more to the process and presidents have all manner of means at their disposable, to include recess appointments, to circumvent a too-onerous process.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Constitution, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    Going ‘deeper into the munchkin pile’ seems an particularly effective way to ensure that the President is unable to conduct the policies whose conduct he was elected to perform. It’s a perfect way to shut down government.

    Of course, that works whenever there is an Executive and Congress of separate parties, whatever those parties may be.