Passavant Publishes: Presidential Power – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Passavant Publishes: Presidential Power

Associate Professor of Political Science Paul Passavant’s article, “Yoo’s Law, Sovereignty, and Whatever,” was published in the December 2010 issue of the journal Constellations. His article discusses the theories of inherent and uncheckable presidential power that lawyers in the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel (located in the Department of Justice) used in legal memos to justify Bush administration policies to engage in torturous interrogations and to engage in warrantless surveillance.

This article, along with another he published in the journal Law, Culture, and the Humanities in April 2009 responds to a weakness in the literature on the presidency identified by Lou Fisher at the Library of Congress and the foremost expert on separations of power issues. According to Fisher, much scholarship in political science has been influenced by Richard Neustadt’s famous book on presidential power, and evaluates presidents as strong or weak with little attention to whether their actions are legal or not.

Passavant’s work, then, addresses the constitutionality of certain Bush administration policies and the justifications put forward by Bush administration lawyers on their behalf. Finally, Passavant addresses certain aspects of contemporary political culture that may explain a lack of popular outrage or congressional response to the Bush administration policies in comparison to the way that Congress responded to the Nixon administration. 

The material in the article was first presented at a dinner of Hobart students who had exhibited academic excellence, and again at a Friday Faculty Lunch talk at HWS. 

Passavant joined the faculty at HWS in 1997. He received his B.A. (with High Honors and Distinction) from the University of Michigan and his master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of “No Escape: Freedom of Speech and the Paradox of Rights” (New York University Press, 2002), and the editor (with Jodi Dean) of “Empire’s New Clothes: Reading Hardt and Negri” (Routledge, 2004). He is also the author of numerous scholarly articles in law and political theory. 

In addition to his scholarly work, last winter Passavant wrote about the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in the daily online political magazine, Counterpunch, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair.