Douglas Kriner | Legal Constraint Through Political Means?

CSDP American Politics Colloquium
Mar 7, 2024, 12:00 pm1:30 pm
Faculty, fellows, and graduate students only



Event Description

Legal Constraint Through Political Means?: Legal Foundations and Public Support for Executive Action


Scholars question whether presidents are legally constrained, but some posit that public opinion provides an indirect mechanism through which law checks unilateral power. Through thirteen survey experiments, we examine whether the legal foundations of executive action – whether framed as pursuant to delegated statutory authority or in conflict with the will of Congress – affect public support for unilateralism. We find evidence that legal frames do influence public support, particularly among those with the strongest attachments to the rule of law.  However, these effects are highly contingent and concentrated in hypothetical vignettes or cases involving temporally distant presidents.  In cases involving recent presidents, legal frames have little effect on support for executive action.  Our results have implications for debates over the forces underlying public evaluations of executive action, the conditions under which public opinion might check presidential overreach, and the role of law in shaping public debates about presidential power.

Center for the Study of Democratic Politics (CSDP)