Legal History Essay

The Conservative Insurgency and Presidential Power: A Developmental Perspective on the Unitary Executive

Vol. 122 No. 8 This Essay traces successive elaborations through to the most recent construction of presidential power, the conservative insurgency’s “unitary executive.” Work on this construction began in the 1970s and 1980s during the transition from progressive to conservative dominance of the national agenda. A budding conservative legal movement took up the doctrinal challenge as an adjunct to the larger cause, and in the 1990s, it emerged with a fully elaborated constitutional theory. After 2001, aggressive, self-conscious advocacy of the unitary theory in the Administration of George W. Bush put a fine point on its practical implications. Much has been written about this theory in recent years, but virtually all of the commentary is by legal scholars seeking to adjudicate the constitutional merits of the case.