Georgetown Center for the Constitution Awards Fifth Cooley Book Prize to Stanford’s Michael McConnell

October 6, 2021

WASHINGTON – The Georgetown Center for the Constitution announced it will award its fifth annual Thomas M. Cooley Book Prize of $50,000 to Professor Michael W. McConnell of Stanford University for his book, The President Who Would Not Be King: Executive Power Under the Constitution (Princeton University Press, 2020).

The prize will be presented at an award ceremony at the National Archives next year, following a full-day symposium at Georgetown Law focused on the book.

The Center’s faculty director, Georgetown Law Professor Randy Barnett, explained the Cooley Book Prize decision:

The Center’s mission is to advance Originalism as an interpretive method by developing originalist theory and promoting superb originalist scholarship. Michael McConnell richly deserves this recognition for his pioneering work as an originalist scholar, the pinnacle of which is his masterful book, The President Who Would Not Be King.

Identifying the original meaning of the executive power has proven to be a challenge for originalists. Does the letter of Article II limit the executive power to the specific powers enumerated in Article II the way Congress’ powers are limited by Article I? Does the president have powers that are inherently “executive” in nature in addition to those specified in Article II? When may presidential powers be limited by Congress? Was the spirit of Article II primarily informed by the need to avoid a monarchy like that of England or to empower an energetic executive?

Michael McConnell brilliantly shows how the Philadelphia Convention threaded the needle of creating a strong unitary executive while allocating significant powers to Congress to constrain their abuse. In particular, he sensitively examines each of the “prerogative” powers of the British monarch and shows how the framers carefully considered which to allocate to an elected president, which to the Senate, and which to the Congress as a whole.

His pathbreaking analysis of the successive drafts of the Constitution demonstrates the care that was taken to empower an effective executive while avoiding the emergence of a king. Using this originalist interpretation, he then powerfully critiques the tri-partite framework for evaluating executive power in Justice Robert Jackson’s influential concurrence in the Steel Seizure Case.

On Friday, October 14, 2022, a distinguished group of political scientists, historians, and legal scholars will gather at Georgetown Law for the Thomas Cooley Faculty Seminar to discuss McConnell’s book. In the evening, Professor McConnell will receive the Cooley Prize at an award ceremony at the National Archives.

The evening event will also feature the Thomas M. Cooley Judicial Lecture, to be delivered by the Honorable Don Willett of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, who was previously a justice on the Supreme Court of Texas. On Saturday, Professor McConnell will teach a seminar on his book to members of the Originalism Seminar Alumni Association.
The Thomas M. Cooley Book Prize, Symposium & Judicial Lecture honors the renowned legal scholar and jurist Thomas McIntyre Cooley, a longstanding chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, and a professor and dean at the University of Michigan Law School. He authored several highly influential books, including A Treatise on the Constitutional Limitations Which Rest Upon the Legislative Power of the States of the American Union.

Past Cooley Prize winners are: Princeton University Professor Sean Wilentz for his book, No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding (Harvard University Press, 2018); Princeton Professor Keith Whittington for his book, Repugnant Laws: Judicial Review of Acts of Congress from the Founding to the Present (University Press of Kansas, 2019); Harvard Law Professor Richard H. Fallon, Jr. for his book, Law and Legitimacy in the Supreme Court (Harvard University Press, 2018), and Professors Gary Lawson of Boston University School of Law and Guy Seidman of IDC Herzliya—Radzyner School of Law for their book, A Great Power of Attorney: Understanding the Fiduciary Constitution (Kansas University Press, 2017).