Unitary Executive Theory

Although it pre-existed the time, Unitary Theory is associated with the presidency of George Bush and Dick Cheney after the 9/11 attacks on the USA. Cheney is said to have seen an opportunity to assert presidential power which he saw a necessary and justified by the constitution.

The unitary executive theory is a theory of United States constitutional law which holds that the President of the United States possesses the power to control the entire executive branch. The doctrine is rooted in Article Two of the United States Constitution, which vests "the executive power" of the United States in the President. Although that general principle is widely accepted, there is disagreement about the strength and scope of the doctrine. It can be said that some favor a "strongly unitary" executive, while others favor a "weakly unitary" executive. The former group argue, for example, that Congress's power to interfere with intra-executive decision-making (such as firing executive branch officials) is limited, and that the President can control policy-making by all executive agencies within the limits set for those agencies by Congress. Still others agree that the Constitution requires a unitary executive, but believe this to be harmful, and propose its abolition by constitutional amendment. Plural executives exist in several states where, in contrast to the federal government, executive officers such as lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, secretary of state, and others, are elected independently of the state's governor. The Executive Branch of the Texan state government is a textbook example of this type of executive structure. Another type of plural executive, used in Japan, Israel, and Sweden, though not in any US state, is one in which a collegial body composes the executive branch – however, that collegial body does not comprise multiple members elected in elections, but is rather more akin to the US Cabinet or UK Cabinet in formation and structure.

Donald Trump has a high view of presidential power. Speaking at a conference in Washington DC in July 2019 — just after the publication of the Mueller Report — President Trump both criticised the Mueller investigation and repeated his (false) claim that the report had found ‘no collusion, no obstruction’. The President continued: ‘I have Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.’ Neither was this the first time that Trump had made this claim. Clearly this is a very expansive view of Article II and of presidential power. Indeed, it is an incorrect view of both. Yes, Article II grants the president ‘all executive power’ but that is not the same as total power — ‘do whatever I want’. Article II is the part of the Constitution that also describes many of Congress’ s checks on the president and gives Congress significant oversight powers. ‘It’ s certainly not a grant of unlimited power,’ commented William C. Banks, a law professor at Syracuse University. ‘He’ s not a monarch, he’ s the chief executive, and he’ s bound to uphold the rule of law.’ Trump, of course, is not the first president to take an expansive view of presidential power. But Trump’ s declaration of a state of emergency and his diverting of federal funds to start the building of his much-talked-about border wall between the USA and Mexico was probably the clearest example of the overt expansion of presidential power during 2019.