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Unpublished Paper
Helping Ideas Have Consequences: Political and Intellectual Investment in the Unitary Executive Theory, 1981-2000
ExpressO (2011)
  • Amanda L Hollis-Brusky

This article explains the remarkable frequency with which the Unitary Executive Theory (UET) was used in the George W. Bush Justice Department (2001-2008) as legal justification for Executive branch action. It shows how this seemingly sudden turn in Executive branch interpretation was actually the result of a series of long-term political investments by key conservative and libertarian actors who worked to develop the intellectual underpinnings of the UET first within the Reagan and George H. W. Bush Justice Departments and then within the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy. Specifically, it draws on interview data and other ethnographic evidence to describe and evaluate the efforts of actors inside the Reagan and George H.W. Bush Justice Departments to implement ideas about a unitary executive into Office of Legal Counsel Memos, Presidential signing statements, and Supreme Court briefs. It then shows how many of these same Justice Department alumni, with the institutional support of the Federalist Society, worked to nurture and expand this theory outside the Executive branch while adherents of the UET were in political exile from 1993-2000. In light of this evidence, it argues that the ascendance of the Unitary Executive Theory during the George W. Bush administration was critically contingent upon earlier efforts by legal elites who worked to transform the UET from a rather narrow critique of the modern administrative state into a full-blown prescription for expanding the sphere of presidential power. In doing so, this article contributes to a burgeoning literature within Political Science and Public Law emphasizing the role support structures play in helping “ideas have consequences.”

  • Unitary Executive Theory
Publication Date
March 9, 2011
Citation Information
Amanda L Hollis-Brusky. "Helping Ideas Have Consequences: Political and Intellectual Investment in the Unitary Executive Theory, 1981-2000" ExpressO (2011)
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