War Powers: The Politics of Constitutional Authority

Princeton University Press
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Armed interventions in Libya, Haiti, Iraq, Vietnam, and Korea challenged the US president and Congress with a core question of constitutional interpretation: does the president, or Congress, have constitutional authority to take the country to war? War Powers argues that the Constitution doesn't offer a single legal answer to that question. But its structure and values indicate a vision of a well-functioning constitutional politics, one that enables the branches of government themselves to generate good answers to this question for the circumstances of their own times.

Mariah Zeisberg shows that what matters is not that the branches enact the same constitutional settlement for all conditions, but instead how well they bring their distinctive governing capacities to bear on their interpretive work in context. Because the branches legitimately approach constitutional questions in different ways, interpretive conflicts between them can sometimes indicate a successful rather than deficient interpretive politics. Zeisberg argues for a set of distinctive constitutional standards for evaluating the branches and their relationship to one another, and she demonstrates how observers and officials can use those standards to evaluate the branches' constitutional politics. With cases ranging from the Mexican War and World War II to the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, and Iran-Contra scandal, War Powers reinterprets central controversies of war powers scholarship and advances a new way of evaluating the constitutional behavior of officials outside of the judiciary.

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About the author

Mariah Zeisberg is assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 21, 2013
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9781400846771
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Language
English
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Genres
Law / Constitutional
Law / Military
Political Science / American Government / Executive Branch
Political Science / American Government / Legislative Branch
Political Science / Constitutions
Political Science / General
Political Science / Political Process / Leadership
Technology & Engineering / Military Science
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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What would the Framers of the Constitution make of multinational corporations? Nuclear weapons? Gay marriage? They led a preindustrial country, much of it dependent on slave labor, huddled on the Atlantic seaboard. The Founders saw society as essentially hierarchical, led naturally by landed gentry like themselves. Yet we still obey their commands, two centuries and one civil war later. According to Louis Michael Seidman, it's time to stop. In On Constitutional Disobedience, Seidman argues that, in order to bring our basic law up to date, it needs benign neglect. This is a highly controversial assertion. The doctrine of "original intent" may be found on the far right, but the entire political spectrum--left and right--shares a deep reverence for the Constitution. And yet, Seidman reminds us, disobedience is the original intent of the Constitution. The Philadelphia convention had gathered to amend the Articles of Confederation, not toss them out and start afresh. The "living Constitution" school tries to bridge the gap between the framers and ourselves by reinterpreting the text in light of modern society's demands. But this attempt is doomed, Seidman argues. One might stretch "due process of law" to protect an act of same-sex sodomy, yet a loyal-but-contemporary reading cannot erase the fact that the Constitution allows a candidate who lost the popular election to be seated as president. And that is only one of the gross violations of popular will enshrined in the document. Seidman systematically addresses and refutes the arguments in favor of Constitutional fealty, proposing instead that it be treated as inspiration, not a set of commands. The Constitution is, at its best, a piece of poetry to liberty and self-government. If we treat it as such, the author argues, we will make better progress in achieving both.
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