Inherent powers refer to a kind of power possessed by the executive and legislative branches of the government. These powers are not explicitly mentioned in any federal law or in the Constitution of the United States. Learn more about what these powers are with the help of some examples.
The current idea of sovereignty consists of four principal aspects: territory, population, authority, and recognition (legitimacy).
Any written constitution of the world serves as a guideline for that particular country’s political and administrative set-up. It is called a guideline, because it is known as the fundamental law of the land. While it is the basic framework binding several constitutional ideals, it also reflects values cherished since the nation’s struggle for independence, for some nations.
All world governments have their sources in their respective constitutions. This set of rules, is built upon further, while forming and working out a specific type of government, like presidential or parliamentary. The U.S. Constitution is known to be one of the shortest constitutions of the world. It provides for primary distribution of authorities, also outlining the roles and powers of different organs of the government. However, there still remain certain attributes of influential offices in the government that are not expressed in the Constitution.
Definition and Meaning of Inherent Powers
Merriam Webster defines the word inherent as ‘belonging to the basic nature of someone or something’. It is also described as the essential constituent or characteristic. Simply put, something that is implied. Pertaining to this description, it can be easier to understand the term ‘inherent powers’.
According to Black’s law dictionary (a dictionary of Political Science), inherent power refers to “An authority possessed without its being derived from another. …Powers over and beyond those explicitly granted in the constitution or reasonably to be implied from express powers.” However, this was a representation made in the 1979 edition of the dictionary. More recently (2004), it describes the term as, “A power that necessarily derives from an office, position, or status”.
Inherent power is attributed to the authority one possesses, or derived in capacity of the office one holds. Inherent powers are basically those belonging to the sovereign state, thus owing to the nature of sovereignty. Here, these can be viewed as the role of the office holder, as has been established by practice, even though not explicitly mentioned in any federal law or in the Constitution. So, the source of authority is the office itself.
“The executive Power shall be vested in a President”. These words from the Constitution, also, suggest that the President is made responsible for proper execution of the laws; the scope of inherent powers may begin here. But, it shall not definitely disturb the system of checks and balances. Inherent, thus, implies that, which stems from the need to serve the national interest of a sovereign state, represented by various organs of the government, be it the President or the Congress.
Examples of Inherent Powers
Powers of the President: The inherent powers of the U.S. President are not defined clearly. The executive actions of the President undertaken in the capacity of, and as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces for national security, is an inherent power for example. Also, the power to pardon a convict, although mentioned in the Constitution, is a power that cannot be overridden by the Congress. Thus, it can be seen as an inherent power.
Often left to be a disputed issue, is the question of ‘what comes under the purview of inherent power’? There was ample criticism launched against the executive actions of Presidents in the past (Abraham Lincoln and Harry S. Truman) and more recently during the presidency of George W. Bush. The authority to establish military commissions, to decide their rules and procedures, shifting a suspect from the U.S. to another country for interrogation (or ‘extraordinary rendition’), or authorizing the National Security Agency for the eavesdropping program were some issues of debate during the Bush administration. It is argued that the President has such inherent authority, under the Commander-in-Chief Clause. Fourth amendment and the Due Process clause, however, contradict this authority.
Powers of the Congress
Powers of the United States Congress are primarily classified into three categories:
i) enumerated (powers of the Congress written in the Constitution)
ii) implied (powers that are generally stated in the Constitution, but not in detail)
iii) inherent (powers, usually unwritten, that exist by the authority of it being a government)
Examples of the inherent powers include:
Waging a war: Declaration of a war is an implied power. Waging a war, hence, becomes an inherent power. As acting on behalf of the state as a sovereign authority, the aim is of defending the nation. Although, waging of war is important, it is also significant to effect a transition from war to peace. The power translates into the responsibility to prevent an immediate recurrence of any struggle too.
Power of exclusion of aliens or deportation: The Congress can decide as to the exclusion of aliens from the country, or also establish terms and conditions for their entry into the country. This particularly relates to the principle of sovereignty of the nation.
Conduct of foreign affairs: All matters concerning international treaties, diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, decisions regarding recognition to newly formed nations, monitoring the country’s borders, and other foreign affairs are determined by the Congress.
The purpose or intent behind every indirect allocation of inherent power should be the guiding principle for a system of good governance. For example, the war power is mainly attributed to the federal government; but it is also known to be shared by the legislative and executive branches of the government. Inherent powers should not be conflated with exclusivity of powers in all cases.