Louis Fisher on the “Sole Organ” Doctrine

09.07.06 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

“The President is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations,” according to a statement made in 1800 by John Marshall.

This so-called “sole organ” doctrine has frequently been invoked by the executive branch “to define presidential power broadly in foreign relations and national security, including assertions of an inherent executive power that is not subject to legislative or judicial constraints,” writes constitutional scholar Louis Fisher in a new Law Library of Congress study (pdf).

“When read in context, however, Marshall’s speech does not support an independent, extra-constitutional or exclusive power of the President in foreign relations.”

“The concept of an Executive having sole power over foreign relations borrows from other sources, including the British model of a royal prerogative,” Fisher concludes.

Fisher’s analysis of the sole organ doctrine is the first in a series of new studies of inherent presidential power prepared at the request of Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV). A copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

See “The ‘Sole Organ’ Doctrine” by Louis Fisher, Law Library of Congress, Studies on Presidential Power in Foreign Relations, Study No. 1, August 2006.

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