Bowdoin’s Rudalevige Addresses Conference on the American Presidency

By Tom Porter

Who should police the president? How can we balance the president's needs with congressional and judicial oversight? How far-reaching should the president’s emergency powers be?

Andy Rudalevge at presidential conference
Andrew Rudalevige addressing the conference

These were some of the questions tackled by Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government Andrew Rudalevige and others at a recent two-day academic conference on the American presidency.

The event, which featured more than sixty scholars, journalists, and policymakers from the Carter through Biden administrations, was organized by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, a nonpartisan affiliate of UVA that specializes in United States presidential scholarship, public policy, and political history.

Rudalevige spoke at a session titled “Emergency powers and presidential constraint,” chaired by CBS political analyst John Dickerson. Rudalevige looked back at how US politicians and lawmakers have grappled throughout history with the issue of how to police the boundaries of executive power.

One concern that was voiced more than 230 years ago by Alexander Hamilton and that is still germane today, said Rudalevige, is regarding the impartiality of the impeachment process. “Hamilton himself... talks about impeachment and how it’s likely to connect itself with ‘pre-existing factions’ ...and thus will be decided by the ‘comparative strength of the parties’ rather than innocence or guilt,” he told the conference.

Rudalevige also quoted Thomas Jefferson, who said ‘the most formidable weapon for the purpose of a dominant faction that was ever invented’ is impeachment. “So, the worry of course becomes that impeachment is a partisan exercise, that its vagaries are interpreted in the favor of that dominant faction, of that partisan faction.”

Rudalevige had a couple of questions for fellow panel members to consider. One concerned the long-term use of presidential war powers or other emergency powers, which he said should have an expiry date, after which they have to be reaffirmed by Congress. He also raised the question of whether the Department of Justice guidance preventing a sitting president from being indicted for a crime should be revisited.

“It was a privilege to be part of this important conversation with world-class scholars – and, crucially, with ideologically diverse practitioners who have grappled with the hard problems of presidential power in their most tangible form,” said Rudalevige. “It’s always easier to identify problems than solutions—but this conference showed there is real will across the partisan divide to grapple with the latter. It’s a dialogue I hope will continue.”