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A Political Perspective on the Theory of the Unitary Executive


Mark Tushnet


Harvard Law School

May 1, 2009

University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, 2009
Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-23

Abstract:     
This Essay offers a brief and highly speculative political, intellectual, and legal history of the theory of the unitary executive in the late twentieth century. I suggest that that theory developed in three stages, which I label the weak, the strong, and the super-strong versions, and confronted one alternative that superficially resembled the theory of the unitary executive but that actually served quite different political, intellectual, and legal purposes. Further, I suggest that the second stage followed the first and the third the second: The weak version was articulated on the arrival of the Reagan administration in 1981, the strong version during the late Reagan and Bush I administrations, and the super-strong version during the Bush II administration. And, finally, as those temporal linkages suggest, I will argue that each version of the theory and its alternative fit into the political agendas of these four administrations and were thought to be solutions to specific problems each administration faced.

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Date posted: May 2, 2009 ; Last revised: June 11, 2009

Suggested Citation

Tushnet, Mark, A Political Perspective on the Theory of the Unitary Executive (May 1, 2009). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, 2009; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 09-23. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1397746

Contact Information

Mark V. Tushnet (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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