A Clarification on the Separation of Powers

I agreed with Ben’s essential point that within the separation of powers we can expect President Biden to have a somewhat different perspective on executive power than candidate Biden or, especially, Senator Biden. That point was about the institution shaping the occupant of the office. That’s embodied in Madison’s famous line about the interests of the office holder being connected to the “constitutional rights of the place.” 

I am skeptical, however, that this understanding of the separation of powers captures our contemporary Congress. Ben takes heart that even while Republicans were reluctant to resist President Trump, the fact that they may resist President Biden can still be seen as the separation of powers in operation. I am not so sure. I think this is a better example of separate parties acting to counter one another. The very problem is that in Congress the self-interest of the officer holder is reelection (which may mean serving the party) rather than in defending the “constitutional rights of the place.” Yes, we can expect a mix of partisanship mixed with institutional interests. But when members of Congress come to view the constitutional authority of the president wholly through the lens of which party he or she belongs to, that is a failure of the separation of powers.

One thought on “A Clarification on the Separation of Powers

  1. My comments on the previous posts on separation of powers were meant to make a similar point to the one George makes here, one not as clear as here in his earlier posts. Competition between parties cannot elaborate or update the separation of powers design unless partisan position is connected to constitutional place/duty rather than, as is now for the GOP, having constitutional institutions and resources redeployed and perverted to serve merely partisan purposes.

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