Justice Antonin Scalia was the lone dissenter in Webster , but his dissent reaffirmed the principle. Scalia disagreed about whether Congress had intended to foreclose judicial review of even constitutional claims. But like the majority, he recognized their existence. Scalia wrote that the CIA director “does not have the authority to dismiss in violation of the Constitution, nor could Congress give it to him.” He provided the following example: “An action for backpay by a dismissed Secretary of State claiming that the reason he lost his Government job was that the President did not like his religious views — surely a colorable violation of the First Amendment.”

Scalia, the avatar of conservative thought and presidential power, understood what the current administration does not: Motive matters. If Trump is brazen enough to make good on his threats to revoke the security clearances of officials of previous administrations whose views he dislikes, he may well be starting down the road to a judicial rebuke that amounts to a historic condemnation of his conduct in office.