A Political Perspective on the Theory of the Unitary Executive

18 Pages Posted: 2 May 2009 Last revised: 11 Jun 2009

Date Written: May 1, 2009


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.

Suggested Citation

Tushnet, Mark V., 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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1397746

Mark V. Tushnet (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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