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Supreme Court assesses president’s power to fire housing agency head

Mr. Nielson said that the logic of the party position would undermine much of the federal government.

“The Social Security Administration, the Office of the Special Counsel, the Federal Reserve, the civil service will all be under constitutional attack,” he said, “and this is just the beginning.”

Justice Elena Kagan developed this point in an exchange with David H. Thompson, a shareholder lawyer. The Social Security Administration, she said, “has been headed by a single commissioner since 1994 and since then it issues 650,000 decisions each year, or around 17 million decisions.

“Are we really going to reverse all these decisions?” she asked.

Mr. Thompson replied that the agency’s actions, unless they are subject to the limitation period, “should be void.”

He said the housing agency’s actions crossed a line. “Businesses have been nationalized,” he said.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. questioned this claim. Government assistance during the housing crisis “has been a lifeline for your clients,” he said, adding that he had done recent financial research.

“I checked this morning,” the Chief Justice said, “and Fannie Mae was trading at $ 2.69 and Freddie Mac was trading at $ 2.56,” he said, “and your shares are not worthless.

Hashim M. Mooppan, a federal government attorney, said the housing agency, acting as a conservative, had the right to restructure its financial obligations. “That’s what restaurateurs do day after day,” he said.

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