Keith Whittington: “How War Powers Eclipsed Constitutional Design”
A Review of The Politics of War Powers by Sarah Burns
“‘Sarah Burns, an associate professor of political science at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a former student at the Claremont Graduate University, is not the first to point out that our current system of separation of powers is warped from its founding design. She comes at this issue from a distinctive and interesting angle, however, and supports it through an informative discussion of how war powers have been understood and contested across American history. Her new book, The Politics of War Powers, part of the venerable American Political Thought series at the University Press of Kansas, makes a valuable contribution both to our understanding of the ideas that shaped the founding and to the ongoing debate about the imperial presidency and perversion of the war powers…”
The Politics of War Powers: The Theory and History of Presidential Unilateralism
By Sarah Burns
“The Constitution of the United States divides war powers between the executive and legislative branches to guard against ill-advised or unnecessary military action. This division of powers compels both branches to hold each other accountable and work in tandem. And yet, since the Cold War, congressional ambition has waned on this front. Even when Congress does provide initial authorization for larger operations, they do not provide strict parameters or clear end dates. As a result, one president after another has initiated and carried out poorly developed and poorly executed military policy. The Politics of War Powers offers a measured, deeply informed look at how the American constitutional system broke down, how it impacts decision-making today, and how we might find our way out of this unhealthy power division…”
Keith E. Whittington is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at Princeton University. He received a Ph.D. in political science from Yale University. He is the author of many books, including: Speek Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech (Princeton University Press, 2018); American Political Thought: Readings and Materials (Oxford University Press, 2016); Political Foundations of Judicial Supremacy: The Presidency, the Supreme Court, and Constitutional Leadership in U.S. History (Princeton University Press, 2007); and has published widely on American constitutional theory and development, judicial politics, the presidency, and federalism.
Sarah Burns is a fellow at the Quincy Institute and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Rochester Institute of Technology. Her research examines the process of constitutional design in the United States using Montesquieu’s understanding of the separation of powers to develop a model for salutary institutions. She has written on war powers, American foreign policy, democratic peace theory, elections, and Montesquieu’s constitutionalism. In her book, The Politics of War Powers, she demonstrates how the Constitution purposely locks the president and legislature in a battle for control over military affairs.
Professor Burns is a JMC fellow.
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