Fiduciary Constitutionalism: Implications for Self-Pardons and Non-Delegation

27 Pages Posted: 29 May 2018 Last revised: 3 Oct 2019

See all articles by Ethan J. Leib

Ethan J. Leib

Fordham University School of Law

Jed H. Shugerman

Boston University - School of Law

Date Written: May 14, 2018


The idea that public servants hold their offices in trust for subject-beneficiaries and that a sovereign’s exercise of its political power must be constrained by fiduciary standards – like the duties of loyalty and care – is not new. But we are collecting more and more evidence that the framers of the U.S. Constitution may have sought to constrain public power in ways that we would today call fiduciary constraints. In this Essay, we find further support for the fiduciary character of Article II in its command of "faithful execution" by the President -- and we explore some important legal conclusions that follow from fiduciary constitutionalism.

After developing some historical links between private fiduciary instruments and state and federal constitutions, we opine on what the fact of a fiduciary constitution may mean for modern issues in constitutional law. First, we argue that fiduciary constraint has implications for the legal validity of presidential pardons that are not efforts to pursue the public interest. Because the core duty of all fiduciaries is to be loyal to beneficiaries and not to pursue their own self-interest, pardons in derogation of a president’s fiduciary obligation are invalid. Second, we suggest that when properly conceived as best analogized to a trust instrument, we can both appreciate where the non-delegation doctrine came from and why it is consistent with the original meaning of the Constitution to have a much relaxed rule about delegation today. By way of conclusion, we meditate on how to convert legal conclusions that flow from fiduciary constitutionalism into remedies that make sense for the potentially sui generis fiduciary law of constitutional law.

Suggested Citation

Leib, Ethan J. and Shugerman, Jed H., Fiduciary Constitutionalism: Implications for Self-Pardons and Non-Delegation (May 14, 2018). 17 Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy 463 (2019), Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3177968, Available at SSRN:

Ethan J. Leib (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

Jed H. Shugerman

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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