The Law: Presidential Inherent Power: The “Sole Organ” Doctrine


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: The views expressed here are my own. Many thanks to Charles Lofgren for constructive comments on the draft.

Louis Fisher is a specialist in constitutional law with the Law Library of the Library of Congress. He has published numerous works on the presidency, national security, war powers, and other constitutional issues.


The executive branch relies in part on the “sole organ” doctrine to define presidential power broadly in foreign relations and national security, including assertions of an inherent executive power that is not subject to legislative or judicial constraints. The doctrine draws from a statement by John Marshall as a member of the House of Representatives in 1800: “The President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.” In dicta, the Supreme Court, in United States v. Curtiss-Wright (1936), cited Marshall's speech to support an independent, extra-constitutional, or exclusive power of the president. When read in context, however, Marshall made no such claim.