Under the appointments clause of the Constitution, there are two types of executive officers: principal officers and inferior officers. The line between the two types of officers, however, is not always clear, and that ambiguity has sparked a question over whether administrative patent judges have been properly appointed by the Secretary of Commerce.

Are administrative patent judges principal officers or inferior officers? Prof. Aditya Bamzai of the University of Virginia School of Law discusses the appointments clause and administrative patent judges in United States v. Arthrex. Supreme Court oral argument is March 1, 2021.


As always, the Federalist Society takes no position on particular legal or public policy issues; all expressions of opinion are those of the speaker.

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Related Links & Differing Views:

Reason: “Supreme Court to Consider Constitutionality of Administrative Patent Judges”

Yale Journal on Regulation: “The Principal Officer Puzzle”

Stanford Law Review: “Who Are ‘Officers of the United States’?”

The Federalist Society: “Appointments Clause Back in the Supreme Court: Patent Office Judges as Principal or Inferior Officers”

Washington Legal Foundation Legal Pulse: “The PTAB Is Here to Stay, but Individual Administrative Patent Judges May Not Be”

National Law Review: “Administrative Patent Judges – You’re Fired (At Will and Without Cause)”

IP Watchdog: “It Matters: A Former Administrative Patent Judge’s Take on Arthrex”