Get access

The Law: In Service to Power: Legal Scholars as Executive Branch Lawyers in the Obama Administration


  • AUTHOR'S NOTE: My thanks to Daniel Durak and Alex Kreger for their research assistance, and to Jen Stark and Shane M. Redman for their comments. I also thank Louis Fisher for his suggestions and comments.


Harold Koh, David Barron, and Martin Lederman, all legal scholars with a record of emphasizing limits on presidential power, changed their views when they became executive branch lawyers in the Obama administration. Koh found a way to justify President Barack Obama's unilateral use of force in Libya, while Barron and Lederman provided justification for the targeted killing, without judicial hearing, of U.S. citizens identified by the executive branch as senior operational terrorist leaders. This article considers whether these changed approaches can be justified by the scholars' changed roles.