The Law: Scholarly Support for Presidential Wars


  • AUTHOR's NOTE: The views expressed in this article are personal, not institutional. I appreciate thoughtful suggestions and comments from David Adler, George Edwards, John Hart, Ronald Moe, and Richard Pious.

Louis Fisher is senior specialist in separation of powers with the Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress. His books include American Constitutional Law and Military Tribunals and Presidential Power: American Revolution to the War on Terrorism.


For the past half-century, political scientists and historians have given much intellectual support to the growth of presidential power. They have imbued the presidency with magical qualities of expertise and good intentions, motivated by the “national interest” rather than the local and parochial ambitions that supposedly drive members of Congress. In this decision to concentrate power in the president, scholars gave short shrift to legal boundaries and constitutional principles, including checks and balances and separation of powers. Supported by the academic community, presidents now regularly claim that the Constitution allows them to wage war against other countries without receiving either a declaration or authorization from Congress.