William & Mary Law Review


In the last four decades, the presidency has been characterized both as the "imperial presidency" as well as the "imperiled presidency. "From an originalist perspective, both camps have elements of truth on their side. When it comes to the conduct and initiation of wars, modern Presidents exercise powers that rival those the Crown possessed in England. Presidents claim the power to start wars, notwithstanding Congress's power to declare war. Moreover, Presidents insist that they have the sole right to determine how the armed forces will wage all wars, even though Congress clearly has considerable power over the armed forces. Law execution provides a fascinating contrast. The original Constitution established a single chief executive, empowered to execute all federal laws through subordinate executive officers. Over the course of almost a century and a half, Congresses have splintered the President's executive power, committing slivers of it to numerous independent agencies. In other words, alongside the Constitution's unitary executive, a number of independent executive councils have emerged. Hence the President is imperial in some respects and imperiled in others.


This piece is an outgrowth of the 2007/08 Cutler Lecture delivered at William & Mary Law School.

Publication Information

50 William and Mary Law Review 1021-1062 (2008)