Obama – Our Unitary Executive?

Posted on July 28, 2011 by

Remember all the talk during the Bush years about presidential power and the famous torture memo by justice department official (now U.C. Berkeley law scholar) John Yoo. 

Yoo is a proponent of unitary executive theory which gives the american president enormous discretion during times of national emergency.  For example: allegedly enabling George Bush to authorize enhanced interrogation of terrorist suspects. 

Now some liberals are toying with a related idea of expansive presidential power, urging Barack Obama to use the 14th amendment to override congressional authority on the debt ceiling.

While unilateral action by Obama in the current “crisis” would certainly differ from the exercise of war powers (and torture!), there may be some overlap in its justification, particularly if the move prompts judicial review.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if the current supreme court were to find that this president acted constitutionally in usurping congress?  And even more ironic if the court’s conservatives (Samuel Alito was grilled on unitary executive theory during his 2006 confirmation) provide the margin.

Comments (3)


  1. Gavin says:

    Interesting idea. However, I think it might add to the difficulties of Obama’s re-election. A debt ceiling was put there by congress and does not meet the same level as a war powers situation. It has become a republician problem to find consensus within themselves (and the nation majority wants consensus), lets see what happens…..

  2. Greg II says:

    I don’t know that I agree with it not meeting the same levels of a war powers situation. Economic calamity can be equally as damaging as a war.

  3. Martin Jay says:

    The right wing leaning Supreme Court would never allow
    any victory for Obama. Allowing him to “usurp” congress’s authority to delegate debt would not be tolerated either.

    This is pretty much the same Supreme Court that stopped the counting in the 2000 election.

    Harry Truman invoked the 14th amendement during WWII – and it was not challenged.

    There is a precedent for it!!!
    A precedent – that this president – should use!!!

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