Frederick Schauer

Should Presidents Obey the Law? (And What Is “The Law,” Anyway?)

Palgrave Macmillan US


Should presidents obey the law? To many people, the obvious answer to that question is “yes,” but perhaps things are not so clear. Although at first blush it seems plain that presidents (and prime ministers, chancellors, and even kings and queens) ought to obey the law, it has not always been so plain in presidential leadership. Consider Abraham Lincoln when, in his first inaugural address, he proposed flouting the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision; or Franklin Roosevelt when he urged Congress to ignore court decisions invalidating New Deal legislation; or Bill Clinton when he led the United States (and NATO) into combat in Kosovo in likely violation of international law; or to Fawn Hall, Oliver North’s secretary, when she testified during the Iran-Contra investigation that “sometimes you have to go above the written law, I believe.”


Frederick Schauer, Should Presidents Obey the Law? (And What Is “The Law,” Anyway?), in Terry L. Price & Thomas J. Wren The Values of Presidential Leadership, Palgrave Macmillan US, 183–197 (1 ed. 2007).

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