Volume 107
Issue 1
Oct. '18

After the Trump Era: A Constitutional Role Morality for Presidents and Members of Congress

Written By: Neil S. Siegel


In the United States today, the behavior of the political branches is generally viewed as more damaging to the American constitutional system than is the behavior of the federal courts. Yet constitutional law scholarship continues to focus primarily on judges and judging. This Article suggests that such scholarship should develop for presidents and members of Congress what it has long advocated for judges: a role morality that imposes normative limits on the exercise of official discretion over and above strictly legal limits. The Article first grounds a role morality for federal elected officials in two purposes of the U.S. Constitution, the vindication of which requires more than compliance with legal rules: federal elected officials must also secure the American conception of democracy as collective self-governance and create a reasonably well-functioning federal government. Given its close connection to those purposes, a role morality for presidents and members of Congress is appropriately described as constitutional, not merely political. This Article then proposes some rhetorical, procedural, and substantive components of constitutional role morality, including a commitment to consult the political opposition before taking important actions and a rebuttable presumption in favor of moderation and com-promise. The Article also explains how different actors in the American constitutional system should execute their professional responsibilities if they are to make it more, rather than less, likely that such a role morality will eventually be adopted and maintained. The final Part anticipates objections, including the concern that the vision offered here faces significant implementation problems.

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