The Constitution - Constitutional text




The preference for collective, rather than individual, decision making runs throughout the constitutional provisions that govern foreign policy. In addition to its exclusive jurisdiction over legislation and appropriation, Congress derives broad authority from Article 1, Section 8, to "provide for the Common Defence," to "regulate Commerce with foreign Nations," "to define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high seas … and offences against the Law of Nations," and make rules governing immigration and naturalization. Congress, alone, has the power to "declare War" and to "grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal" as well as to develop rules regarding "Captures on Land and Water." Congress also possesses the authority to raise, support, and maintain an army and navy, to "make Rules" for the regulation and government of the "land and naval Forces" and to call forth "the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions." It is also assigned the power and responsibility to organize, arm, discipline, and govern the militia.

As Article 2, Section 2, of the Constitution indicates, the president shares with the Senate the power to make treaties and appoint ambassadors. Specifically, the president is granted the authority, "by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." Another provision, known as the "supremacy clause," in Article 6, makes treaties, along with the Constitution and acts of Congress, the "supreme Law of the land." The constitutional grant of authority to the president to "appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls" is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

The Constitution assigns to the president only two exclusive roles in foreign affairs. He is "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several states, when called into the actual Service of the United States," and he is enjoined by Article 2, Section 3, to perform two duties: "he shall receive Ambassadors, and other public Ministers," and "he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." This list exhausts the textual grant of authority to the president and Congress in foreign affairs. The president's constitutional powers are few and modest, and they pale in comparison with those vested in Congress.

The judiciary is assigned constitutional power that bears on the conduct of foreign policy. Article 3, Section 2, confers upon the Supreme Court original jurisdiction in "all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls," while it generally lodges in the federal courts jurisdiction in "controversies between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects."

The Constitution also imposes some significant and specific prohibitions, the effect of which is to ensure that control over foreign relations is vested in the national government. For purposes of foreign relations, federalism is virtually irrelevant. Bulked by the supremacy clause, federal acts are supreme and require the acquiescence of states. In United States v. Belmont (1937), the Supreme Court observed: "In respect of our foreign relations generally, state lines disappear. As to such purposes the State … does not exist." Thus, Article 1, Section 10, categorically forbids states from entering "into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation." Moreover, no state may, without the consent of Congress, "enter into any Agreement or Compact … with a foreign power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded," or in "imminent danger" of invasion. Other prohibitions touch upon the conduct of foreign affairs, although none of them in practice is very important. Thus, Article 1, Section 9, provides that no holder of any "Office of Profit or Trust" under the United States may "accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign state," without the consent of Congress.

Some foreign affairs powers are not mentioned in the Constitution. For example, the Constitution is silent on the repository of authority to negotiate treaties, terminate treaties, recognize foreign governments and states, and make or declare peace. It may be plausibly argued that these powers are subsumed under enumerated grants of power or fairly inferred from the Framers' intentions or other constitutional provisions. This approach is faithful to the principle, articulated by the Court in Reid v. Covert (1957), that the government is "a creature of the Constitution. Its powers and authority have no other source." It has been asserted, however, that foreign relations constitute an exception to the principle that the federal government has only those powers expressly enumerated in the Constitution. In the controversial decision of United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. (1936), the Court announced that the president's powers over foreign affairs are not derived from the Constitution but are a direct inheritance from the Crown of England. That case involved the constitutionality of an embargo that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had imposed upon the export of arms to Bolivia and Paraguay during the Chaco War. Roosevelt had issued the embargo on the basis of authority delegated to him in a joint resolution passed by Congress.

In a bizarre opinion, Justice George Sutherland argued that federal power in the field of foreign affairs differed radically from that with respect to internal matters. He observed that the internal federal power had been carved from "the general mass of legislative powers then possessed by the states," but that this was not at all true of the control of foreign policy, which had never been in the possession of the states. Instead, he maintained, before the Revolution general power over foreign affairs had been lodged in the British Crown. But with the Declaration of Independence, "the power of external sovereignty had passed … to the colonies in their collective and corporate capacity as the United States." The power over foreign affairs was "older than the Constitution" and had been inherited by the newly formed "Union" from the Confederation. It did not depend upon any direct grant of authority from the Constitution, for it is a necessary attribute of nationhood and sovereignty. Not only did the foreign affairs power inhere in the union, but it belonged to the president, who would exercise "plenary" power in his capacity as "sole organ" of American foreign policy, although the opinion did not explain how such authority came to belong to the executive.

Justice Sutherland's opinion has been roundly criticized. Scholars have criticized his reading of Anglo-American legal history by demonstrating that in 1776 states were sovereign entities. They point to Article 2 of the Articles of Confederation which stated: "Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power … which is not … expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled." As sovereign entities, and jealous of their sovereignty, states only delegated powers to the Continental Congress. Through Article 9, for example, states delegated the war and treaty powers. That grant alone undermines Sutherland's premise that these powers were derived from a source other than the states. Moreover, even if it were assumed that the power of external sovereignty had been by some method transferred directly from the Crown to the union, it remains to be explained why that power would be vested in the president. Justice Felix Frankfurter noted in Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer (1952) that "the fact that power exists in the Government does not vest it in the President." Indeed, the Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that the sovereign power in foreign affairs is held by Congress. There is nothing in Sutherland's theory that would explain the location of this power in the presidency.

The contention, moreover, that the conduct of foreign policy is not restricted by the Constitution is at odds with Madison's statement in Federalist No. 45 that "the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined … [they] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce." Thus the foreign affairs powers are strictly constitutional. Since Curtiss-Wright the Court has taken the position that foreign affairs powers are tethered to the Constitution. In Youngstown, Justice Hugo Black, speaking for the Court, delivered a weighty rebuke to the claim of "extra-constitutional" power. In the same case, Justice Robert Jackson dismissed Sutherland's claim of an extra-constitutional presidential power as mere "dictum." The theory of extra-constitutional authority is irreconcilable with the central premise of American constitutionalism: All powers of the government—expressed and implied—have been delegated by the sovereign. As a consequence of this constitutional principle, all governmental acts—executive, legislative, and judicial—must be grounded within the four corners of the Constitution.

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