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Here’s a look at presidential powers

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” On Jan. 20, 2009, someone not named George W. Bush will become President. I’d venture to say not too many hearts will be broken when that happens.

Whether the new president is black or white, male or female (a historic sentence of which we all should rightfully be proud), he or she will have certain powers granted by the Constitution

How the cannonade of campaign promises may translate into action is the subject of this column. Stated simply, what will the new president be able to deliver?



In essence, the president has four main spheres in which to exercise his or her powers: executive, legislative, judicial, and foreign affairs. There are also certain defined constraints on presidential powers, whatever Richard Nixon, twirling in his grave, might to the contrary still struggle to contrive.

Let’s peek first at the Constitution, specifically Article II. There are four sections. The first, jointly with the 12th Amendment, deals with how a president is elected and the requirements to serve as president. Section three concerns the president’s mandate to keep the Congress informed about the state of the Union and charges the president with certain administrative tasks. Section three also holds that the President shall ensure that the laws are executed faithfully. The fourth section deals with impeachment and removal of the President and other civil officers for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”



Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution provides that the president shall be commander in chief of the armed services, may call upon his cabinet and department chiefs for opinions, and may, except in cases of impeachment, grant pardons for offenses against the United States. The president, with the advice and consent of the Senate, also has the power to make treaties and to nominate and appoint ambassadors, other public ministers, judges of the Supreme Court, and “all other officers of the United States whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for…” Finally, Section 3 vests the President with the power to fill vacancies which may occur during Senate recesses by granting temporary commissions.

In the executive realm, the President has broad powers to manage national affairs and the internal workings of the federal government. He can issue rules, regulations, and directives know as executive orders which have binding effect upon federal agencies but do not require congressional approval. The president is responsible for preparing the federal budget but the Congress must approve it.

Similarly, the president nominates the heads of all executive departments and agencies subject to approval by the Senate. As commander in chief, he or she may call the National Guard into service and, in times of war or national emergency, with Congressional approval, may exercise broad powers to manage the economy and protect the security of the United States.



The President also has a major legislative role. Unless overridden by a two-thirds majority, the President can veto any act of Congress. What’s more, much of the legislation entertained by Congress is drafted at the initiative of the executive.

The President’s chief judicial power is that of appointment of judges, which many presidential scholars believe to be the greatest privilege of office and the one which potentially portends the greatest presidential legacy. A second judicial power conferred upon the President is the power to pardon anyone convicted of a federal crime.

In foreign affairs, it is the president who is primarily responsible for relations of the United States with other nations. With the Secretary of State, the President manages all official contacts with foreign governments. Through the Departments of State and Defense, the president is responsible for the protection of Americans abroad.

It should be noted that many of the powers exercised by the President are “evolutionary” in that they are not expressly bestowed under the Constitution but, instead, have developed by custom and a changing world over time.

What will the new president be able to deliver? A direction, certainly. A vision, yes. But owing to our system of presidential power and congressional checks and balances, most importantly of all, perhaps, the president must simply lead.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” He may be reached at 926.4461 or by e-mail address at robbins@colorado.net.


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