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The Law: Textbooks and the President's Constitutional Powers


  • AUTHOR's NOTE: I am indebted to Lou Fisher for his analysis and suggestions, to Kimberley Fletcher and Lindsey Blake for their research assistance, and to Cheryl Hardy for her splendid keyboarding and production skills.

David Gray Adler is professor of political science at Idaho State University. He has published numerous works on the Constitution and the presidency, including an edited volume (with Michael Genovese), The Presidency and the Law: The Clinton Legacy.


For many college students, enrollment in an introductory course on American government and politics will constitute their only detailed orientation to U.S. constitutional principles. What they read in introductory textbooks about presidential power will significantly inform and shape their understanding of the authority wielded by the nation's chief executive. How do introductory texts portray the president's constitutional powers? This essay argues that textbooks pay insufficient attention to the source and limits of presidential authority. Moreover, descriptions of executive powers are apt to leave students in a state of confusion. In view of all this, students as citizens are ill-equipped to assess and evaluate sweeping assertions of executive power. As a consequence, it will be difficult for citizens to check presidential abuses of power.