Institutional Loyalties in Constitutional Law

60 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2017 Last revised: 6 Sep 2017

See all articles by David Fontana

David Fontana

George Washington University Law School

Aziz Z. Huq

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: March 25, 2017


In Federalist 51, James Madison offered what has become the canonical account of how the separation of powers would pit branch against branch for the greater good. The officials of an institution would and must act on behalf of their institution for the Constitution to function properly. In Madison’s account, ensuring the presence of the right amount of institutional loyalties would serve as a durable and plausible mechanism enforcing institutional boundaries and ensuring a stable constitutional order. But modern scholars take a more skeptical view of his theory. Faced with forces or figures that threaten basic institutions of the constitutional system, their energies have primarily been devoted to predicting that the Constitution will prove fragile because institutional loyalties are rare in practice, and, additionally, difficult to create as a matter of institutional design. This Article aims to re-establish institutional loyalty as an object of serious analysis for constitutional scholars and jurists. Its core thesis is that institutional loyalty can be identified, evaluated and generated as a central feature of contemporary American constitutional law. We provide a definition of institutional loyalty, and situate the concept in the American constitutional past and present. We further marshal evidence that institutional loyalty can be decisive to contemporary inter-branch dynamics, even if its effects are inconstant and often asymmetrical. We further argue that it is a mistake to view institutional loyalties as a constitutional end in themselves. It is true, as Madison predicted, that such loyalty can at times contribute to widely shared constitutional goals in some instances. But, contra Madison, we show that institutional loyalty can also undermine structural goals at other moments. Calibrating the appropriate mix of such loyalties across the branches therefore presents a considerable, if unavoidable, array of challenges. To that end, the Article offers a comprehensive taxonomy of causal mechanisms by which institutional loyalty can be generated within each of the three branches. Working branch-by-branch, we identify examples of institutional reforms capable of modifying institutional loyalty in ways that promote widely shared constitutional ends.

Keywords: Constitutional Law; Separation of Powers

Suggested Citation

Fontana, David and Huq, Aziz Z., Institutional Loyalties in Constitutional Law (March 25, 2017). University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 85, Forthcoming, U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 634, Available at SSRN:

David Fontana

George Washington University Law School ( email )

2000 H Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-0577 (Phone)


Aziz Z. Huq (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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