Fired Social Security Commissioner Saul signals possibility of legal challenge to sudden termination

In a shockingly partisan move, President Joe Biden on Friday summarily fired the “term-protected” commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) who had been appointed to a six-year term in 2019 by former President Donald Trump.

Now that purportedly terminated official, Andrew Saul, has vowed to oppose his ostensible firing and even seemed to suggest that he would be willing to fight the issue in federal court, The Daily Caller reported.

“I intend to protect my rights”

Reports indicate that Biden, due to complaints over the past several months from elected Democrats, SSA union workers, and advocates for the disabled and elderly, had asked both Commissioner Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black for their resignations — a request that Black conceded to but which Saul appears to have ignored.

Thus, according to The Washington Post, Biden proceeded to fire Saul Friday morning and immediately named Kilolo Kijakazi, who was the deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy, as Saul’s interim replacement until a new permanent commissioner could be appointed.

In an interview with the Post, Saul described his sudden termination as a “Friday night massacre” and declared, “I consider myself the term-protected commissioner of Social Security.”

“This was the first I or my deputy knew this was coming,” he said of an email he received Friday morning announcing his removal. “It was a bolt of lightning no one expected. And right now it’s left the agency in complete turmoil.”

Saul further revealed his plan to continue working in his appointed role by logging in to his work computer remotely on Monday and questioned whether it was even legal for Biden to fire him. Though the ousted commissioner didn’t specifically say whether he would file a federal lawsuit, he did tell the media outlet, “I intend to protect my rights.”

Law requires finding of “neglect of duty or malfeasance in office” prior to removal of commissioner

Should Saul decide to fight back against his firing in federal court, he will almost certainly point to a specific provision of the Social Security Act as the basis for his litigation and opposition to being summarily removed from his position by Biden long before his term would have expired in 2025.

In the section of the law that deals with the top officials of the SSA, there is a provision that states: “An individual serving in the office of Commissioner may be removed from office only pursuant to a finding by the President of neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.”

There are no indications whatsoever that President Biden ever found or documented such “neglect of duty or malfeasance in office” that would be required for Saul to be fired before his term expired.

Recent Supreme Court precedent seems to favor Biden

However, the Post noted that the White House will almost certainly bank on a pair of recent Supreme Court rulings as granting Biden the authority to bypass the statutory requirement and terminate the commissioner without cause.

While those two cases — one involving the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the other the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) — aren’t exact matches to the current situation, both nonetheless were decided in favor of the ability of the president to remove the appointed head of an independent government agency despite statutory limitations.

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