Symposium article by: Douglas W. Kmiec

44 PEPP. L. REV. 477 (2017)

Is the Vice President an executive officer, a legislative officer, or both?  This query has existed since the time of the founding.  The question poses more difficulty than one might suppose, and it remains unsettled.  It can be convenient to ignore questions that one cannot answer, and thus, the Vice President has been the object of political humor and treated as an appendage without present function.  Yet, because we attribute great genius to those who drafted the Constitution, what is the effect of leaving this high-ranking officer without adequate definition or purpose?  For the first century and a half of the American experience, the Vice President was more often accorded legislative status, with offices not in the White House, but in the capitol.  Beginning in the second half of the Twentieth Century, presidents have delegated considerable and increasing executive authority to the Vice President, such that it is now commonplace to think of those occupying the office as “deputy president.”  While nominally retaining his space in the capitol, today’s vice presidents have a greater physical presence in the West Wing of the White House and are expected to be the President’s emissary in those tie-breaking moments, over which the Vice President presides as President of the Senate.  In this article, Ambassador Douglas Kmiec traces these historical developments and provocatively asks whether seeing the Vice President as either legislative or executive may well miss the point that this officer with dual loyalties is intended to exercise a degree of independence that potentially makes him neither a executive nor a legislative agent, but rather the focal point of political-branch.

 

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