What is all this about a unitary executive?

One of the topics that appeared very much a concern to the opposition in the Alito hearings was about a unitary executive. In light of all the allegations about a boot stomping, facist dictator running roughshod over the rights of citizens and such, it is easy to miss what this one is really all about.

The unitary executive idea is that the President has complete control over the executive branch of the government and all of its components. This is an issue because of the entrenched bureaucracy in many government agencies that does not see things the way the President does. The leaks about sensitive affairs and tell-all books are inidcations of the friction that results.

Bruce Fein describes the concept and its history in Presidential powers defended (Washington Times 06ja17)

The Founding Fathers understood that a plural executive would confound accountability and the identification of officials responsible for wrongdoing. Alexander Hamilton amplified in Federalist 70: “[T]he plurality of the executive tends to deprive the people of the two greatest securities they can have for the faithful execution of any delegated power, first, the restraints of public opinion, which lose their efficacy, as well on account of the division of the censure attendant on bad measures among a number as on account of the uncertainty on whom it ought to fall; and, second, the opportunity of discovering with facility and clearness the misconduct of persons they trust, in order either to their removal from office or to their actual punishment in cases which admit of it.” Article II, section 3 of the Constitution thus entrusts the faithful execution of the laws to the president alone. James Madison further explained in the First Congress: “Vest the power in the Senate jointly with the President and you abolish at once that great principle of unity and responsibility in the executive department, which was intended for the security of liberty and the public good. If the President should possess alone the power of removal from office, those who are employed in the execution of the law will be in their proper situation, and the chain of dependence shall be preserved; the lowest officers, the middle grade, and the highest will depend, as they ought, on the President, and the President on the community.”

In other words, the opposition sees the dilution and sharing of the executive authority as a means of control and limitation that they want to enhance and protect and continue – at the same time that they are complaining loudly about the lack of any such limitation and control. Their efforts to dillute the unitary concept of the executive are attempts to obfuscate accountability and do their own boot stomping, roughshod running over of a branch of government that exists to balance their power.

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