The Magazine

All the President's Czars

Obama emerges as a champion of the unitary executive.

Oct 12, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 04 • By STEVEN MENASHI
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Among "ingredients that constitute energy in the executive" Hamilton counted "unity," meaning a single president. "This unity may be destroyed," he wrote, by vesting the executive power "ostensibly in one man, subject in whole or in part to the control and co-operation of others, in the capacity of counselors to him," such as executive officers accountable to Congress. The Founders warned that Congress would attempt to colonize the other branches. "The legislative department is everywhere extending the sphere of its activity, and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex," reads Federalist 48. "The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department," according to James Madison, "consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others."

Every president surely has an interest in formulating his own policy agenda. By establishing policy czars accountable only to himself, Obama has sought to unify executive policymaking and guard against bureaucratic and congressional usurpation. For all the hullabaloo surrounding Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, and the "unitary executive theory" in the last election, Barack Obama has emerged as the leading champion of the unitary executive in practice and--against his congressional critics--the defender of separated powers.

Steven Menashi is an Olin/Searle fellow at Georgetown University Law Center.