Event Title

Presidential Unilateralism, and the Role of Institutional Checks

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

College

College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Major

Political Science

Session Number

1

Location

RM 216

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Meredith Conroy

Juror Names

Moderator: Dr. Cherstin Lyon

Start Date

5-18-2017 2:00 PM

End Date

5-18-2017 2:20 PM

Abstract

“Presidential unilateralism” depicts the behavior of American presidents who act independent of Congress to address problems, crises, or public policy initiatives. Presidents exercise unilateralism using “executive actions.” Executive actions include executive orders, proclamations and memoranda. The legality of executive actions is ground in the vague authority given to presidents in the Constitution, but individual orders must uphold the Constitution, and comply with current statutes (Thrower 2017). There are three checks on presidential unilateralism. First, a successor can undo past presidents’ unilateral actions by revocation. Second, Congress can pass legislation that rescinds or overrides unilateral actions. Third, the courts can overturn actions, if a case against an order is brought before them. Unfortunately, the last known comprehensive assessment of congressional and judicial checks on unilateral actions was last updated through 1998. That study (Howell 2003) found that between 1945 and 1998, Congress proposed 45 bills to overturn an executive order; only four were successful. As for the judicial branch, the courts heard 83 cases challenging executive actions; the president won 86 percent of the time. But the use of unilateral actions by presidents has changed considerable since 1998. Moreover, so have the dynamics of Congress, which is much more prone to polarization and gridlock today, than ever before (Hopkins and Sides 2016). This project would update this data, as well as develop a unique theory for when and why executive actions are used, and the role of incoming presidents, congress, and the courts in permitting or checking this growth of executive power.

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May 18th, 2:00 PM May 18th, 2:20 PM

Presidential Unilateralism, and the Role of Institutional Checks

RM 216

“Presidential unilateralism” depicts the behavior of American presidents who act independent of Congress to address problems, crises, or public policy initiatives. Presidents exercise unilateralism using “executive actions.” Executive actions include executive orders, proclamations and memoranda. The legality of executive actions is ground in the vague authority given to presidents in the Constitution, but individual orders must uphold the Constitution, and comply with current statutes (Thrower 2017). There are three checks on presidential unilateralism. First, a successor can undo past presidents’ unilateral actions by revocation. Second, Congress can pass legislation that rescinds or overrides unilateral actions. Third, the courts can overturn actions, if a case against an order is brought before them. Unfortunately, the last known comprehensive assessment of congressional and judicial checks on unilateral actions was last updated through 1998. That study (Howell 2003) found that between 1945 and 1998, Congress proposed 45 bills to overturn an executive order; only four were successful. As for the judicial branch, the courts heard 83 cases challenging executive actions; the president won 86 percent of the time. But the use of unilateral actions by presidents has changed considerable since 1998. Moreover, so have the dynamics of Congress, which is much more prone to polarization and gridlock today, than ever before (Hopkins and Sides 2016). This project would update this data, as well as develop a unique theory for when and why executive actions are used, and the role of incoming presidents, congress, and the courts in permitting or checking this growth of executive power.