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Presidential Power and National Security


Abraham D. Sofaer is George P. Shultz Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Mr. Sofaer was a professor of law at Columbia University, 1969-1979, U.S. district judge, 1979-1985, and legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State, 1985-1990.


Recent claims of unilateral, independent executive power have renewed the debate over presidential authority. The Framers, however, adopted a system of separate branches with predominantly mixed rather than independent powers. President George Washington's proclamation of 1793 demonstrated how the system works. The system's inherent ambiguities led Justice Robert H. Jackson to describe executive power by the standards used to evaluate its exercise. Jackson's description remains accurate, and the system of concurrent authorities remains necessary to protect against tyranny while enabling the president to lead.