The Limits on Congress's Authority to Investigate the President
William P. Marshall   |   2004 U. Ill. L. Rev. 781
Download PDF

In this era of unprecedented executive power, congressional oversight of the President is vital in order to maintain the balance of power in the federal government. But what of the opportunity for political mischief from such investigations? Professor Marshall argues that congressional investigations have been used as political weapons because there are few, if any, costs to the legislative branch in taking such action. As such, minimal political capital and, indeed, very little effort is necessary to initiate such investigations.

However, rather than excluding Congress from investigating substantive areas, Professor Marshall’s solution to this problem focuses on process limitations to protect against congressional abuse. The legislature’s powers thus will not be blunted, but sufficient political capital will have to be expended in order to subject the President to investigations. Con-gress will be less likely to engage in abusive inquiries if political costs are imposed for taking up investigations. By choosing to pursue process reform, rather than limiting the areas in which the congressional over-sight may occur, the ability to engage in legitimate and necessary investi-gations is not compromised.