Article Volume 56:3

The Lockean Constitution: Separation of Powers and the Limits of Prerogative

Table of Contents

McGill Law Journal ~ Revue de droit de McGill



David Jenkins*

In the post-9/11 era, many legal scholars

have advanced theories of constitutional law
that make allowance for unreviewable discre-
tionary decision making by the executive
branch, particularly in the context of the war
on terror. Drawing on Lockean constitutional
theory for normative support, the author devel-
ops an alternative constitutional model that ad-
dresses the problem of discretionary executive
power. Lockes constitution divides political
power between the executive and the legisla-
ture, with the latter checking and balancing the
former. Both the executive and the legislature
have a fiduciary trust to act for the public good.
Locke closely links the public good and the con-
stitution such that any breach of the constitu-
tion is per se a breach of the public good. There-
fore, unreviewable decision making by the ex-
ecutive always violates its trust because it is a
breach of the constitution. After setting out
Lockes theory of separation of powers, the au-
thor presents a modified model that makes the
judiciary, in addition to the legislature, respon-
sible for the accountability of executive decision
makers. Although the executive retains its pre-
rogative power, it must always remain account-
able to the legislature and the courts, even in




Depuis le 11 septembre, de nombreux
juristes ont avanc des thories de droit
constitutionnel qui permettent lexcutif un
particulirement dans le contexte de la guerre
contre le terrorisme. Sappuyant sur le soutien
normatif de la thorie constitutionnelle de
un modle
constitutionnel alternatif qui aborde
problme du pouvoir excutif discrtionnaire.
La constitution de Locke rpartit le pouvoir
politique entre lexcutif et le lgislatif, avec le
pouvoir lgislatif contrlant le pouvoir excutif.
Les deux branches ont un obligation fiduciaire
dagir pour le bien public. Locke lie le bien
public et la constitution dune manire troite,
faisant en sorte que toute violation de la
constitution reprsente en soi une violation du
bien public. Tout dcision incontrlable prise
par lexcutif viole donc toujours son obligation
fiduciaire en portant atteinte la constitution.
Aprs avoir expos la thorie de Locke sur la
sparation des pouvoirs, lauteur prsente un
modle modifi qui rend lappareil judiciaire, en
plus de
lexcutif. Bien que
responsabilisation de
lexcutif conserve sa prrogative,
il doit
toujours rester responsable devant le parlement
et les tribunaux, mme en cas durgence.

lgislature, responsable de


* Associate Professor of Law, University of Copenhagen (member of the Centre for Euro-
pean Constitutionalization & Security, in collaboration with the Centre for Advanced
Security Theory); Attorney at Law (W Va, Oh); JD (Washington and Lee University);
LLM, DCL (McGill University Institute of Comparative Law); This article is a substan-
tially rewritten chapter from my doctoral thesis for McGill University, supervised by
Stephen Scott and H Patrick Glenn, to both of whom I am very grateful. I would also
like to thank Michael Plaxton (Assistant Professor, University of Saskatchewan College
of Law) for his helpful comments.

Citation: (2011) 56:3 McGill LJ 543 ~ Rfrence : (2011) 56 : 3 RD McGill 543

David Jenkins 2011





The Lockean Constitution
A. A Constitution of Structure
B. The Problem of Prerogative
C. The Legislative Check

Judicial Power
A. A Constitution of Law
B. Modifying Locke
C. Popular Sovereignty and the Judicial Trust







Executive power is the predicament of our times. Although the com-
mon law nations have long sought to prevent unchecked executive author-
ity, this problem has re-emerged at the forefront of legal controversies in
the long decade since 9/11. During these years, there have been more
frequent and powerful suggestions that the executive branch must be free
to make decisions beyond the scrutiny of the legislature or the courts.
These suggestions have been made in response to a number of perceived
social problems (such as crime and illegal immigration), but they have
been most vociferously made in the context of the war on terror. There,
some scholars have expressed constitutional theories that sit in tension
(or perhaps outright conflict) with liberal values.

This article particularly targets and roundly rejects those constitu-
tional theories that support sweeping and institutionally unaccountable
executive powers in times of crisis. It is true that exceptional executive
decisions in the absence of or even contrary to law might be necessary on
extraordinary occasions. Such decisions, however, must remain account-
able in some way to the legislature or the courts; there is no room in a lib-
eral constitution for exclusive, unilateral spheres of executive power,
where the will of the one must always prevail. In making this argument,
this article turns to the ideas of John Locke for a constitutional model in
which executive power must always remain accountable to the legislature
and courts, even in emergencies.

The Lockean constitution, broadly conceived, is a sophisticated system
for the separation of powers. Locke divided political power between an execu-
tive and legislature, each having independent fiduciary trusts to act for the
public good. Because the public good is politically contestable, Locke closely
linked it to a structural system for its rational realization. The substantive
goals or requirements of the resulting trust, which resides in those wielding
political power, are likewise circumstantially dependent and open for debate.
However, that trust always requires fidelity to constitutional checks and bal-
ances that allow institutional struggles over the meaning of the public good
and restrain power, especially unitary executive power. In Lockes dualistic
model, which is the forerunner to modern separation of powers theories, the
legislature is the sole or primary institutional check on executive power. An
attempt by the executive to undermine the legislatures independence or
oversight, or otherwise to slip the restraints it puts upon him, is tantamount
to an attempt to wield absolute power. Absolute power per se violates the
public good and thereby the executives trust, because it runs too high of a
risk of miscalculation or arbitrariness. Although Locke argued that the ex-
ecutive has a prerogative power to make exceptional decisions in emergen-
cies, decisions without any institutional accountability whatsoever are not


prerogative ones at all, as properly understood. To the contrary, this sort of
executive overreaching manifests an illegitimate exercise of power, which in
extreme circumstances threatens tyranny and invites legislative or popular
resistance. Furthermore, even in those common law countries where parlia-
mentary sovereignty prevails, the legislature is no longer the only check.
There are the courts. A practical theory of the Lockean constitution must
somehow account for the judiciarys historical development into an inde-
pendent, third branch of government. This article therefore expands on
Lockes original structural model by including them in the constitutional ar-
chitecture. It argues that the Lockean constitution not only easily accommo-
dates the judiciary, but normatively justifies its review of executive deci-
sionseven prerogative ones.
Before continuing, a disclaimer is in order. Some readers will criticize
this article as assuming too much and saying too little, because it neither
delves into the full complexities and intellectual history of Lockes philosophy
nor considers the different legal systems and political cultures of the common
law countries. These are, of course, important areas worth further attention,
in the context of putting the Lockean constitution to work. However, this ar-
ticle is not strictly a piece on political philosophy or national law, but a nor-
mative argument for a particular liberal constitutional model. It addresses
the problem of executive power in those jurisdictions sharing the common
law heritage, and selectively draws upon the Lockean strands within that
heritage. It prioritizes the Lockean influence over other ones, such as Hobbe-
sean or classical republicanism. For these same reasons, this articles meth-
odology relies heavily upon the work of political scientists and especially his-
torians, who have studied Lockes philosophy and its influences on the con-
stitutional development of the common law nations. As a law article, then,
this piece seeks to do more than understand Lockes original meanings and
their historical place; it interprets his ideas and modifies them to construct a
workable constitutional model that better controls executive power in times
of emergency. Just how the Lockean constitution adapts to local conditions
obviously requires further work. That, however, is beyond the scope of this

I. The Lockean Constitution

A. A Constitution of Structure

Part I argues that Locke, in his Second Treatise on Government,1 sets
out a constitutional model, in which executive power is always politically

1 John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (London: Black Swan, 1690) book II at para 4

[Locke, Second Treatise].


accountable to the legislatureeven in times of emergency. This reading
of Locke therefore rejects alternative interpretations of prerogative power
(as noted below), which would not only allow the executive to act against
the letter of the law, but outside of the constitution itself. The Lockean
constitution, which always constrains the executive, is a structural divi-
sion of political power between the executive and legislature (and, as ex-
plained in Part II, the judiciary), resembling the modern separation of
powers doctrine. This constitution of structure, therefore, contrasts with
other forms of government that would, for example, rely on substantive
restrictions on princely power or lodge sovereignty in a single republican
legislature. While this article examines Lockes constitutional model in
detail and expounds upon it, it is first helpful to explain briefly why Locke
embraced this structural solution to the problem of executive power. Its
origins lie in his theory of the state of nature and natural law.

Lockes Second Treatise begins with the pre-political state of nature, in
which all men enjoy perfect freedom and equality, subject only to natural
law.2 He equates that law with reason, which teaches all Mankind, who
will but consult it; That being all equal and independent, no one ought to
harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions.3 The law of na-
ture permits such harm only when individuals defend themselves, seek
reparations for injuries to person or property, or restrain and punish the
transgressions of others.4 Therefore, natural law gives everyone a right to
self-preservation, just as it imposes a duty to respect the rights of others;
an individual can neither slavishly submit to another, nor exercise arbi-
trary or destructive dominion over others.5 Rather, one persons at-
temp[t] to get an other Man into his Absolute Power is to enter into a
State of War with the other.6 Like Hobbes, Locke acknowledges the
great insecurity of this natural state where, in the absence of higher au-
thority, every person has rights to ascertain, judge, and execute natural
law. Being inclined to ill Nature, Passion and Revenge, as well as self-
interest and imperfect reason, individuals will misuse these rights and at-
tempt to impose their wills upon others.7
Consequently, entrance into a Civil Government is the proper Rem-
edy for the Inconveniences of the State of Nature.8 This act establishes a

2 Ibid at paras 4, 22.
3 Ibid at para 6.
4 See ibid at paras 7-12.
5 Ibid. See also ibid at paras 23-24.
6 Ibid at para 17.
7 Ibid at para 13. See also ibid at paras 124-26.
8 Ibid at para 13 [emphasis added].


supreme, communal authority that will decide controversies and so avoid
dangerous states of war between individuals. Political society therefore
exists for the purpose of better realizing natural law and protecting natu-
ral rights to life, liberty, and property.9 With this explanation for the ori-
gins of civil government, Locke thereby introduces the rights-security con-
tradiction that has long vexed liberalisms supporters and provoked its
critics. This contradiction, however, is central to Lockes political thought.
As will be explained below, his structural constitution is built around and
productively channels the tensions between rights and security. A careful
constitutional architecture preserves natural rights insofar as they are
compatible with mutual security, at the same time as it accommodates
strong but limited executive power.

Locke arrives at his structural solution, and so deals with the rights-
security contradiction, in two basic steps. First, in a move similar to that
of Hobbes, Locke disembodies the individuals rights to ascertain, judge,
and execute natural law by placing them in the hands of government.
Man thereby leaves behind his perfect natural liberty for liberty in a soci-
ety formed with his consent.10 In making this transition from a state of
nature to civil society, Locke also reconceptualizes natural law itself. The
individual no longer pursues and defends his natural rights through the
short-sightedness of his own self-interest. Instead, government officials
must impartially ascertain, judge, and execute natural law for the benefit
of the whole. In this civil society, the maxim Salus Populi Suprema Lex11
underlies the exercise of all political power. Such power, as Locke de-
scribes it, is

a Right of making Laws with Penalties of death, and consequently
all less Penalties, for the Regulating and Preserving of Property, and
of employing the force of the Community, in the Execution of the
such Laws, and in the defence of the Common-wealth from Foreign
Injury, and all this only for the Public Good.12

All political actions must be reasonably related to achieve these ends.
Otherwise, actions that are not directed towards the public good cease to
be exercises of political power (properly so called), but are instead des-
potic.13 However, what does or does not advance the above goals becomes
a complex political calculation, where the separate interests of the indi-

9 See ibid at paras 87-89, 127-31.
10 Ibid at para 22.
11 Ibid at para 158.
12 See ibid at para 3.
13 Ruth W Grant, John Lockes Liberalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) at
82; John T Scott, The Sovereignless State and Lockes Language of Obligation (2000)
94:3 Amer Pol Sci Rev 547 at 558-59.


vidual and the community (and thus the balance between rights and secu-
rity) are no longer clear. How natural law is to be realized in civil society
is therefore a difficult question of what serves the public good.
Because the public good is normatively thin as an animating principle
of government, Locke only proposes it as an abstracted moral imperative
and justificatory basis for political power.14 It is simply too difficult to say
in advance what the public good dictates in different, perhaps unforeseen
circumstances.15 Just as individuals do in the state of nature, officials and
political factions might dispute its meaning, necessitating an appeal to
the opinions of majorities.16 Therefore, although he justifies civil govern-
ment as a cure for the ills of the state of nature, Locke is skeptical about
the possibility of preordaining the requirements of the public good. At the
same time, he distrusts the abilities and motives of those officials exercis-
ing political power. Notwithstanding the basic principle that government
should protect life, liberty, and property while ensuring security, natural
law is a weak constraining force on government. So long as officials ap-
pear to serve these ends, the ambiguity and complexity of the public good
means that they will have considerable political discretion and will attract
popular deference to their decisions. Consequently, despite the merits of
the hypothetical philosopher king, benevolent prince, or assembly of vir-
tuous men, the concentration of political power in any one person, group,
or institution runs too great a risk of error, arbitrariness, or abuse in ei-

14 Although John Dunn writes that the Lockean communitys goals focus upon mans rela-
tionship with God and the accomplishment of religious duty, the substantive moral
purposes of society certainly could be other than promotion of religion (The Political
Thought of John Locke: An Historical Account of the Argument of the Two Treatises of
Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969) at 123). Without a sub-
stantive moral framework to guide individual and even collective moral judgment, then,
as Dunn states, rational human action would fall back upon the confusing abstractness
of the utilitarian calculus (ibid at 266). In A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke sug-
gests that the duties of even a religiously based society are compatible with individual
moral choice, within certain parameters (London: Black Swan for Awnsham Churchill,
1689). What is more important is that different moral frameworks for society still man-
date substantive ends to both individual actions and a government authority wielded
for the public good. These frameworks therefore posit an ethic of individual or commu-
nitarian fulfillment going beyond Hobbesian order and security, and mere preservation
of the polity. Indeed, some substantive political ethic of liberty or freedom itself is to be
valued as a fence to preservation. Grant, supra note 13 at 90; See also Richard H Cox,
Locke on War and Peace (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960) at 107.

15 See e.g. Thomas Poole, Constitutional Exceptionalism and the Common Law (2009)
7:2 International Journal of Constitutional Law 247 at 258-71, criticizing arguments for
substantive, common law values that attempt to limit executive power through advance
definition of the public good.

16 See Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at paras 96-99.


ther present or in future, less capable hands.17 The empowering and limit-
ing aspects of the public good accordingly create a dialectical problem,
which is critical to Lockes enterprise.18 Locke must therefore find an-
other, pragmatic solution to the problem of controlling and channelling
political power for the public good.
At this point, Locke takes his crucial second step in constructing a
constitutional model that can both promote natural rights and provide
them with the requisite security. When Locke transfers the individuals
rights to ascertain, judge, and execute natural law to government, he con-
ceptually separates these rational functions from one another. While they
are unified in the individual existing in the state of nature, or unified in
the person of an absolute ruler, in well orderd Commonwealths, where
the good of the whole is so considered, they must be divided between dif-
ferent officials or institutions.19 Where these functions are joined in one
prince or assembly, only conscience, virtue, or wisdom can ensure that the
ruler obeys the dictates of natural lawan abstract and weak constrain-
ing force, as just explained. Moreover, rulers are just as irrational as any
other individual and can abuse the political power entrusted to them.20 As
with the man who can judge his own cause in the state of nature, such
unity of functions in a fallible ruler ensures neither civil societys rights
nor security in the long-run. In contrast, by properly dividing the func-
tions of ascertaining, judging, and executing natural law between gov-
ernment institutions, officials can oppose and dispute one another in an
orderly way. Such political disputation ameliorates passions, prejudices,
and errors of judgment. Here, then, is the theoretical foundation for erect-
ing a constitutional structure, through which civil society can argue about
and articulate the public good.21 With this important second step, Locke
goes on to lay the groundwork for the modern separation of powers doc-
trine; he first and foremost seeks to control political power by institution-
ally dividing it between a legislature and executive.
After conferring political power upon civil government, Locke con-
structs a tense, yet dynamic, constitution where that power is institution-
ally divided between a strong executive and a powerful legislature. Each

17 See ibid at paras 13, 90-94.
18 Dunn, supra note 14 at 150. See also Poole, supra note 15 at 250-51; Cox, supra note 14
at 113-14; John O McGinnis, The Spontaneous Order of War Powers (1997) 47:4 Case
West Res L Rev 1317 at 1323; Thomas S Langston & Michael E Lind, John Locke &
the Limits of Presidential Prerogative (1991) 24:1 Polity 49 at 66-68.

19 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at paras 143-44.
20 See ibid at paras 13, 90.
21 See Benjamin A Kleinerman, The Discretionary President: The Promise and Peril of Ex-

ecutive Power (Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 2009) at 75.


is counterpoised to check and balance the other. Through this constitu-
tional structure, Locke indelibly links political power to the public good in
three main ways. First, his constitution prevents a centralization of power
(most likely in the executive) that might lead to irrational or arbitrary de-
cision making, and ultimately a descent into tyranny. Second, it further
prevents the irrational or arbitrary exercise of power by channelling it
through different but coordinate government institutions, each uniquely
suited to and responsible for ascertaining, judging, or executing natural
law on behalf of the civil society. These natural functions correspond to
the legislative, judicial, and executive powers. Third, it results in a dia-
logical reasoning process between these government institutions. It is
through this sometimes cooperative, sometimes confrontational process
that civil government determines what, precisely, the public good requires
in any particular instance.22 For Locke, the rational pursuit of the public
goodand hence, the legitimate exercise of all political powercannot be
divorced from these constitutional structures and processes. Indeed, the
public good and the constitution have such close affinity in Lockes politi-
cal universe that it is difficult to tell whether his constitution is merely a
means to an end or is partly an end in itself.23 As pointed out in Part II.B,
below, this obfuscation becomes critically important for restraining the
executives dangerous prerogative claims that he must act outside of the
constitution for the greater good.

Just how the Lockean constitution works to control political power
(especially executive prerogative), and how it accommodates the courts, is
the subject of the remainder of this article. Locke began his examination
of government institutions with the legislative power, the representa-
tional nature of which built upon his idea that popular consent is the
fount of legitimacy for all government authority.24 However, this article
begins with and focuses on executive power for four reasons. First, the
danger that arbitrary and abusive executive power might present to the
public good highlights the special trust that accompanies all political

22 Lockes constitution facilitates the realization of the public good in positive and negative
ways. The positive, rational decision-making aspect of this model is often overshadowed
by its negative, defensive purpose of protecting liberty from arbitrary government.

23 See Harvey C Mansfield, Jr, Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive
Power (New York: Free Press, 1989) at 186-90. However, Mansfield draws a different
conclusion from this ambiguity between political means and ends (ibid at 190-93, 199-
204, 288, 290). That is, a strong, informal executive lurks behind constitutional forms
and retains an extraconstitutional right to act as he sees necessary to preserve civil so-
ciety. See infra note 25.

24 See Peter Josephson, The Great Art of Government: Lockes Use of Consent (Lawrence,
Kan: University Press of Kansas, 2002) at 215. See also Robert Faulkner, The First
Liberal Democrat: Lockes Popular Government (2001) 63:1 The Review of Politics 5 at


power, and thus the necessity of structural checks and balances. Second,
despite some claims to the contrary, the unitary nature of the executive
(even an elected one) deprives it of the same kind of majoritarian justifica-
tion that might mask or excuse oppressive laws passed by a representa-
tive legislature. Third, the executives institutional advantages can also be
weaknesses. Decisiveness and efficiency can come at the expense of bal-
ancing and reconciling various interests of societal factions. Emphasis on
group security can also overcome concerns for individual rights. Finally,
from a historical perspective, the threat that unrestrained executive
power poses to individual rights and the rule of law has long been a preoc-
cupation of Anglo-American constitutional thinking.

The post-9/11 world and the war on terror place these concerns in an
extraordinary contemporary context and highlight the stresses which cri-
ses place on the Lockean constitution. One can only understand the ever-
lurking, apparently illiberal contradiction of the prerogative by seeing it
within Lockes structural scheme as a whole. Far from a defect in or ex-
ception to Lockes constitutional order, prerogative is instead a pragmatic,
yet intrinsic, component of it. Lockes executive is indeed formidable, es-
pecially where (as explained in the next section) the prerogative allows
emergency actions that are, strictly speaking, contra legem. Nevertheless,
there is one absolute limitation to its legitimate exercise. Executive at-
tempts to rule against or without an independent legislature, capable of
holding him accountable, are not prerogative acts at all, but illegitimate
assertions of power. Where such actions seriously undermine the constitu-
tions structural mechanisms for pursuing the public good, they lead to
tyranny and invite resistance.

The necessity of strong, executive emergency power brings with it
risks of misuse, a dilemma that has long been a problem for liberal think-
ers. However, this article suggests that it is a problem Locke solved with
his constitution of structure. Danger to the public good, of course, reaches
its height in times of emergency. During such times, public-safety impera-
tives threaten to trump individual rights, and executive power begins to
overshadow the legislature (or, as will be seen, the courts). The moment of
prerogative strips bare the rights-security contradiction in Lockes
thought. The executive might act in the absence of or even against estab-
lished laws, for the greater good of preserving civil society against exis-
tential danger. However, this is also where the Lockean constitution op-
erates in its most vital sense. Its structures and processes adapt to pre-
rogative, encourage cautious institutional oversight, and warn of tipping
points where the prerogative risks the descent into tyranny. Because
Locke strongly links the constitution to the public good, as already noted,
the executive cannot easily appeal to the latter as an excuse to violate the
former. Rather, the constitution and the public good are so closely en-
twined that a violation of the constitution is a presumptive violation of the


public good. Therefore, despite what some have suggested,25 the preroga-
tive power cannot be an extraconstitutional one, in the sense that it is
completely unaccountable to the legislature (or also, as this article claims,
the courts). While the Lockean constitution is flexible enough to tolerate a
decisive executive like Lincoln, it will not countenance the pretensions of
an absolutist ruler or a sovereign dictator.

The result of such executive hubris is a constitutional crisis. When the
executive gathers together the functions of legislating, judging, and exe-
cuting the law, he exercises arbitrary power over the whole of civil society.
Such an attempt threatens a state of war with other government institu-
tions sharing in political power, or with the people themselves. As for ex-
ecutive efforts to subvert the constitution by stealth or corruption, rather
than by open declaration or forcethat is, when legislative or judicial def-
erence to the executive becomes so extreme, uncritical, and habitual as to
be effectively an abdication of their own power and checking functions
Locke leaves it to the people to decide when the constitution has been be-
trayed by those to whom it had been entrusted. If the constitutions struc-
tures finally fail, then the people have a natural right to revolt and, if
necessary, to dissolve and reconstitute civil government altogether.26 By
so prominently advocating a right to revolution, Locke accepts the possi-
bility that his constitution might fail one day, regardless of the quantity

25 See Mansfield, supra note 23 at 13-16, 203-204. According to him, Locke leaves the leg-
islature (representing law) and the executive (representing extralegal discretion) in
open, unresolved conflict. He continues:

For in Lockes conception, the constitution goes only so far as law extends.
There is no fundamental or constitutional law above ordinary law; hence the
prerogative power of the executive can be exercised as much against the con-
stitution when necessary as against the law. Lockes constitution attempts to
contain a power that admittedly cannot be contained. The executive is lim-
ited only by the end for which it is entrusted by the people, which is the pub-
lic good as they interpret it (ibid at 258).

See also Ross J Corbett, The Extraconstitutionality of Lockean Prerogative (2006)
68:3 The Review of Politics 428 at 429-30. Corbett joins Mansfield and others in arguing
that the prerogative is an extraconstitutional power that cannot be constrained by insti-
tutional checks and balances. But see Kleinerman, supra note 21 at 48-68, 71-74. He
argues for constitutional checks that constrain the prerogative and signal when the ex-
ecutive begins to usurp the legislatures power. Such checks are necessary to counter
the peoples lack of interest or ability to question the executives intentions. Poole char-
acterizes the situation where the executive remains subject to legislative or judicial
oversight, critical deference, and indemnity as a lower order of constitutionality re-
sulting from a fluid and open-ended constitutional structure, as opposed to an extra-
legal measures model that would, presumably, give the executive a legitimate preroga-
tive to act against all constitutional checks and boundaries, subject only to popular re-
sistance (supra note 15 at 272-73).

26 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at paras 218, 222.


and quality of its fail-safes. No liberal constitution can entirely eliminate
the possibility that a bold or scheming executive might wield absolute
power, or that a politically apathetic people might surrender their liber-
ties to a stern, authoritarian order. However, the failure of the Lockean
constitution marks the state of affairs for what it has become: tyranny
and slavery.

B. The Problem of Prerogative

The section above has given an overview of the theoretical origins and
purposes of the Lockean constitution. The remainder of Part II unfolds
Lockes structural design, and examines its institutions and processes
more closely. The following sections show in more detail how Locke di-
vides political power between the executive and legislature, and how that
legislature checks and balances the former. These sections specifically ad-
dress the problem of how this constitutional model controls prerogative
power in times of emergency. To understand better what prerogative is,
however, it is first necessary to see how Locke conceives of other types of
executive power, and how they relate to legislative power (discussed sepa-
rately in the next section).

Locke characterizes executive power, generally speaking, in two ways.
The first (and least constitutionally problematic) is the duty to enforce the
laws promulgated by the legislature.27 Because laws need a perpetual
Execution, or an attendance thereunto … there should be a Power always
in being that is separated from the legislative and lodged in different
hands.28 This power of enforcementLockes executive power, used in a
narrow sensefundamentally characterizes the whole executive office, as
indicated by the use of the descriptor. In this role, the executive is clearly
subordinate to the legislature, although Locke gives him a veto power to
check the legislature and protect the independence of his office. The ex-
ecutive is bound to apply the law as it is, and the legislature can seek to
alter the authority delegated to him or otherwise hold him accountable for
maladministration.29 As the Supream Executor of the law, allegiance to
the executive is in fact allegiance to the law itself, rather than to the indi-
vidual or even the office.30 Beyond these basic points, Locke spends little
more time on executive power, in this narrow sense. The manner in which
the executive interprets and executes the standing laws, exercises a veto
over their passage, or appoints and directs a myriad of inferior magis-

27 See ibid at para 144.
28 Ibid. See also ibid at para 144 [emphasis added].
29 See ibid.
30 Ibid at para 151 [emphasis added].


trates are all related issues of obvious, day-to-day importance in Lockes
constitution.31 Nevertheless, this narrow executive power does not really
seem to trouble Locke. This article suggests three related reasons for this.
First, while there will of course be frequent, quotidian political disputes
between the executive and legislature, the exercise of executive power (in
this sense) should not usually occasion serious constitutional conflicts be-
tween them. Second, whatever statutory discretion the executive enjoys in
enforcing the law will itself be narrow, legally circumscribed, and likely
subject to close legislative (as well as judicial) oversight. Third, neither
aspect of this narrow executive power tends to stress unduly or amplify
suddenly the security-rights contradiction within the constitution. Lockes
real worry, revealed in his subsequent discussion on executive power in a
much broader sense, is the executives non-statutory discretion to deal
with the uncertainties of political events and protect civil society in times
of unexpected crisis. In addition to executive power narrowly conceived
Locke identifies and works to control two other, more constitutionally
problematic forms of executive power: the federative and the prerogative.

The executive regularly exercises Federative Power over matters
such as making war, concluding peace, and conducting foreign affairs.32
Locke describes it as the power over War and Peace, Leagues and Alli-
ances, and all the Transactions, with all Persons and Communities with-
out the Commonwealth.33 Federative power engages the public as one
Body in the State of Nature.34 Thus, it is distinct from the executive
power (in Lockes narrow sense) in terms of its subject matter and per-
sonal application, and the allowable degree of discretion.35 With federative
power, the executive tends to exercise political power outwardly from the
civil society and to act upon foreign persons. Furthermore, in contrast to
the factional debates and institutional dialogue prevalent in domestic
politics, the potentially hostile international scene requires that civil soci-
ety act expeditiously as a unified force. This unity aggregates claims to
the public good, intensifies its demands, and faces-up to the dangerous
and unpredictable state of nature between nations.36 Consequently, fed-
erative power is much less capable to be directed by antecedent, stand-
ing, positive Laws, than the Executive; and so must necessarily be left to
the Prudence and Wisdom of those whose hands it is in, to be managed for

31 See ibid at paras 151-52.
32 Ibid at paras 145-48.
33 Ibid at para 146.
34 Ibid at para 145.
35 See ibid at paras 147-48.
36 See Cox, supra note 14 at 122-23.


the publick good.37 In contrast to the slow deliberations of the legislature,
the executive possesses institutional virtues of speed, efficiency, and deci-
siveness that are better suited to deal with rapidly-changing international
events. Federative power therefore shifts decision-making initiative to the
executive; for Locke, unitary action rather than protracted political delib-
eration better serves the public good in external affairs of state.
Despite its necessity for security in a dangerous world, federative
power presents its own risks to the civil society it preserves. The executive
might manipulate foreign affairs, war, or national security concerns in or-
der to increase his prestige, influence, and share of political power. Thus,
for instance, war making is a public good where the optimal assignment
of power for the most effective delivery also leads to a great risk that it
will be produced for private ends.38 Moreover, the executive might redi-
rect the federative power inward to manage affairs within the civil society
and act upon its members. Where the boundaries between external and
internal security become blurred, there is a greater risk that the executive
might abuse federative power; with it, the executive might come to exer-
cise domestic political power without legislative restraint.39 It is only in
spite of such concerns, not because of their absence, that the executive
wields federative power in order to safeguard civil society from outside
threats and enemies. With federative power, the rights-security contradic-
tion becomes more apparent and constitutional checks and balances be-
come strained.
Executive initiative, however, does mean executive unilateralism.
Federative power is therefore not an extraconstitutional power. Rather,

37 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 147 [emphasis added]; Cox, supra note 14
at 127. In The Federalist No 74, Alexander Hamilton similarly pointed to the need for
executive leadership, especially in war:

Of all the cares or concerns of government, the direction of war most pecu-
liarly demands those qualities which distinguish the exercise of power by a
single hand. The direction of war implies the direction of the common
strength; and the power of directing and employing the common strength
forms a usual and essential part in the definition of the executive authority.
(No 74 in Clinton Rossiter, ed, The Federalist Papers (New York: New
American Library, 1961) 447 at 447).

Hamilton justified presidential power under the proposed US Constitution in Lockean
terms. In the British context, Blackstone did the same for the Crowns war prerogative:
William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First
Edition of 1765-1769 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) vol 1 at 249-50.

38 McGinnis, supra note 18 at 1322.
39 See e.g. Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co v Sawyer, 343 US 579, 72 S Ct 863 (1952)
[Youngstown Sheet] (denying US President Truman a unilateral power to nationalize
the steel industry, without congressional authorization, in order to prevent widespread
strike action and work stoppage during the Korean War). See also infra note 43.


the executive-federative power together comprises in truth a single
power viewed from different aspects,40 legitimized and limited by the ex-
ecutives obligation to serve the public good. For this reason, it would also
be impracticable to place them in different persons.41 Lockes distinction
between them is not one of kind, but mainly of their direction of exercise
and the degrees to which the executive has discretion vis–vis legislative
deference. That is, there is a distinction in executive umpirage between
the individuals within the society, and … the proper organization and di-
rection of the force of the political society with respect to threats which
emanate from without.42 Thus, just as with the executives power to en-
force the standing laws, the public good simultaneously justifies and lim-
its federative power. Because of the public goods close connection to con-
stitutional structure, however, it accommodates federative power only
within some sort of institutional checks and balances that bring it under
political control. Accordingly, although the legislatures deliberative proc-
esses make it ill-suited for directing the federative power, they do enable
cautious oversight of it.
Of course, the nature of international affairs makes it difficult for the
legislature either to determine in advance or to judge retrospectively what
the public good requires of the executives federative power in specific cir-
cumstances. Therefore, the same institutional justifications for placing
the federative power in executive rather than legislative hands also affect
the way that the legislature will conduct its oversight. As explained in the
next section, Lockes legislature remains empowered to pass any law it
likes, and so can try to limit or censure the executive in his use of federa-
tive power. Notwithstanding this strong formal power, the legislatures
institutional limitations in this field mean that it will likely (and rightly)
defer to executive discretion. Furthermore, the effectiveness of any laws it
passes will be contingent to some extent on unforeseen future events. The
function of laws also shifts from primarily enabling executive authority in
domestic affairs to checking it in foreign ones. Legislative deference, a
paucity of applicable laws, and the vicissitudes of the international state
of nature all give the executive a presumptive freedom in his exercise of
the federative power; he may act externally in ways that would be unac-
ceptable in a domestic context. In regard to this power, then, Lockes legis-
lative check on the executive appears to weaken. Importantly, however, it
does not disappear. The legislature will flex its power once again if the ex-
ecutive redirects federative power inward to tamper with domestic affairs.
Furthermore, the legislature can still try to constrain the federative

40 Cox, supra note 14 at 127.
41 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 148.
42 Cox, supra note 14 at 107, 124-25 [emphasis added].


power directly, in the unusual event that the risk of executive malfea-
sance overcomes the legislatures natural deference.43 In Lockes constitu-
tional model, federative power is best understood as not formally delim-
ited, but residing in the executive and resistingbut not foreclosing
legislative interference only due to its particular nature.
It is against Lockes (narrow) executive and federative powersas

much as against legislative power, as will be seenthat one must concep-
tualize the prerogative. This power is nothing, but a Power in the hands
of the Prince to provide for the publick good.44 This executive discretion is
necessary, as

the Law-making Power is not always in being, and is usually too
numerous, and so too slow for the dispatch requisite to Execution:
and because also it is impossible to foresee, and so by Laws to pro-
vide for all Accidents and Necessities that may concern the pub-

The prerogative is therefore defined not only by the substantive require-
ment that it serve the public good, but also by the presence of a political
exigency where the legislature is unable to act in time. As Locke describes
it, Prerogative is nothing but the Power of doing publick good, without a
Rule.46 However, he also finds that the prerogative might dictate action
against the direct Letter of the Law when the public good demands.47
Thus, in extreme cases (such as when foreign invasion or attack might be
imminent) it might even be that the executive must act contra legem to
preserve civil society.48 Lockes idea of prerogative presents a problem to

43 See ibid at 129 (suggesting that the external operation of the federative power typically
will not occasion internal constitutional crises). While the public might broadly defer to
executive judgment in foreign affairs and war, however, the executives inward redirec-
tion of the federative powerfor purposes of managing domestic affairs usually left to
the legislaturewould then abrogate the grounds for such deference.

44 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 158.
45 Ibid at para 160.
46 Ibid at para 166 [emphasis in original].
47 Ibid at para 164 [emphasis added].
48 See ibid at paras 159-60. See also Grant, supra note 13 at 84-85; Jules Lobel, Emer-
gency Power and the Decline of Liberalism (1989) 98:7 Yale L J 1385; Clement Fatovic,
Constitutionalism and Presidential Prerogative: Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian Per-
spectives (2004) 48:3 Am J Pol Sc 429. Grant and Fatovic emphasize this aspect of pre-
rogative to advocate that emergency powers be exercised exceptionally in open contra-
vention of standing laws and subjected to political scrutiny, rather than dangerously le-
galized through broad legislative grants of power. Lockes conception of prerogative is
perhaps best illustrated by President Lincolns unilateral suspension of the writ of ha-
beas corpus, without Congress prior approval, during the American succession crisis of
spring 1861. Congress was out of session at the time. Responding to criticisms of his
habeas suspension without congressional approval, Lincoln asked: Are all the laws but


understand how the executive may be constitutionally and legally con-
strained, and yet also retain the latitude to act outside or against the law
for the public good.49

Some might characterize the prerogative as a unique emergency
power, conceptually different from the executive and federative powers.
This argument would make the prerogative extraconstitutional and illim-
itable by the legislature (or the courts).50 Yet, there are some fundamental
similarities between the prerogative and federative powers; both empha-
size the uncertainty of events and the need for a swift, energetic response
in order to preserve civil society. Indeed, from this perspective, the dis-
tinctions between federative and prerogative power also become ones of
application and degree, but not of kind. While the federative power exter-
nally acts upon subjects outside of the civil society, the prerogative will
tend to be inwardly directed; it is in domestic, not foreign, affairs where
there is less likely to be a legislative vacuum and more likely to be legal
restraints upon executive power.51 The fact that Lockes constitutional
model already tolerates greater executive discretion in federative matters
means that the executive will probably only need to act under prerogative
when exceptional domestic circumstances require an unusually swift and
unanticipated executive response. Federative power admittedly does not
contemplate executive violation of the laws (where they do exist and ap-
ply), although a foreign crisis might precipitate recourse to the preroga-
tive at home or abroad. Moreover, one can also conceive of the prerogative
contra legem as responding to circumstances so unique that any relevant
laws arguably no longer apply, opening up a crack in the legal framework
that must be immediately filled by executive action. In either case, under
both the federative and prerogative powers, the executive exercises wide
discretion to deal with unpredictable security threats that are not amena-
ble to regulation by standing legislation.

one to go unexecuted, and the Government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?
Abraham Lincoln, Presidential Address (Message delivered at Congress in Special Ses-
sion, 4 July 1861), reprinted as Special Session Message in James D Richardson, ed, A
Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, vol 7 (New York: Bureau of
National Literature, 1897) 3221 at 3226. Congress retrospectively approved Lincolns

49 Josephson, supra note 24 at 233.
50 See e.g. Corbett, supra note 25 at 445-46. He denies that executive, prerogative, and
federative powers can be characterized as different forms of a single discretionary
power. He instead suggests that prerogative pre-exists executive power (and is there-
fore extraconstitutional), by characterizing the latter as one based upon and derived
solely from enabling legislation.

51 See Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at paras 145, 147.


Seen in this way, the prerogative, federative, and executive powers are
indeed various forms of a unified discretionary power in the executive;
prerogative is not on a different conceptual plain. Accordingly, ordinary
executive discretion under the laws and exceptional discretion under the
prerogative stand at different end points on a scale of discretion to be used
for the public good. When the whole of Lockes executive power and the
varied circumstances justifying executive discretion are placed on this
scale, there is no longer room for extraconstitutional concepts of emer-
gency power or states of emergency. Instead, there are only degrees of ex-
ecutive discretion, legislative deference, and exception from usual legal
norms, all of which correspond to the degree of ever-present risks to the
security of the civil society.52 Like any other type of executive discretion,
then, the prerogative rests upon a duty to serve the public good, as well as
upon institutional advantages for taking quick, decisive action. However,
more than any other type of power, the prerogative strips bare the secu-
rity-rights contradiction and threatens to centralize political power in the
executive. Significantly, Locke alludes to this dilemma in his introduction
on prerogative, writing that [w]here the Legislative and Executive Power
are in distinct hands, the public good justifies executive discretion when
the legislature is unable to act.53 The prerogative, just like executive
power generally, is limited by the constitutions structural division of po-
litical power (as explained in the first section). Even where executive dis-
cretion is at its broadest and most necessary, it comes to an end where the
executive attempts to make binding rules, alter or abolish the laws, or
does so constructively by dispensing with them and ruling through arbi-
trary decree. Should the executive attempt any of these actions under a
claim of prerogative, the legislature has its own constitutional duty (ex-
plained in the next section) to cease its deference to executive discretion

52 As Nomi Lazar argues:

Now, if order and liberal rights entail one another, it follows that existential
ethics are a constant and not exceptional feature of liberal democratic life.
What I have called existential ethics obviously manifest as emergency pow-
ers in times of crisis. But the enforcement and preservation of order, however
more urgent in times of emergency, is a central function of everyday govern-
ment and one that always involves the derogation of rights. If this is true,
then emergency powers need no special justification at all. Instead, they are
an extension of everyday practice and everyday values. The difference is of
degree and not of kind (Nomi Claire Lazar, States of Emergency in Liberal
Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) at 99-100).

See also ibid at 19-21, 50-51, 71-80, 103-04, 108-12.

53 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 159. Locke also notes that the scope of pre-
rogative (and thus legislative deference) expands and contracts, according to how well a
particular executive tends to use his discretion for the public good (ibid at paras 162-


and challenge the encroachment upon its own political power. As argued
in Part II, similar executive attempts to usurp the judicial power to adju-
dicate legal rights and obligations would likewise invite resistance.54

For these reasons, the prerogative is not an extraconstitutional power
in the sense that it is outside of all control by the legislature (or even the
courts). This exceptional prerogative power remains subject to constitu-
tional checks and balances for the same reason that it existsthat is, to
serve the public good. As explained in the first section, the public good
and the constitution are so closely related as to be nearly one and the
same. While they together allow broad executive discretioneven so far
as to tolerate emergency actions contra legemthey do not countenance
institutionally unaccountable executive rule. Prerogative actions that
seek to avoid or undermine institutional oversight, then, violate both the
public good and the constitution, and so are not, by definition, prerogative
ones at all. Rather, such actions are illegitimate and unconstitutional,
presenting a new risk of tyranny to the civil society, even as the executive
claims to save it from other threats.55
At this point, this article argues that there is a further representa-
tional aspect to the public good that links it, and consequently the pre-
rogative, to Lockes constitution of structure. As Locke writes, the pre-
rogative must combine activism with discretion and self-restraint;56 its
exercise is subject to a Fiduciary Trust … for the safety of the People.57
His reference to public safety is best understood broadly against the
rights-security contradiction at the centre of his constitutional model. Se-
curity is to be ensured against both external threats and tyranny, which
results from the concentration of political power in any one person or in-
stitution. Indeed, with the line above, Locke specifically refers to the ex-
ecutives duty not only to take necessary action when the legislature is not
in session or is unable to act, but actually to convene the legislature at
regular intervals. He makes clear that though the Executive Power may
have the Prerogative of Convoking and dissolving such Conventions of the
Legislative … it is not thereby superiour to it.58 The executives trust is
therefore not only to act where the legislature cannot, but also to ensure
(and then submit to) a continuous legislative power. In being willingly ac-
countable to that power, the executive also recognizes the legislatures

54 See ibid at para 141. See Case of Proclamations (1611), 12 Co Rep 74, 77 ER 1352, (KB);

Prohibitions del Roy (1607), 12 Co Rep 63, 77 ER 1342 (KB).

55 See Lazar, supra note 52 at 69.
56 See Grant, supra note 12 at 72-73, 141-42.
57 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at paras 141, 156.
58 Ibid at para 156 [emphasis added].


own claim to represent the people (as will be seen in the next section),
who have consensually formed the constitution, chosen the legislature,
and entrusted to it an independent share of political power.59

Prerogative, as the executives share of political power in trust, pre-
cludes divine right or any other authoritarian theories of unrestrained ex-
ecutive rule. Rather, any political society which derives its legitimacy
formally from a set of rights of its sovereign which are not derivatives of
the wills of his subjects violates the logical preconditions for a legitimate
political society.60 Thus, the executive shares political power with the leg-
islature not just to prevent the centralization of that power and to pro-
mote institutional dialogue conducive to reasonable decision making but
also to share power with a representative assembly for the republican
purpose of furthering consensual government. The executive has neither a
personal right to rule, nor a claim to superior wisdom as to what is or is
not in the best interests of the peopleeven during emergencies. In a civil
society arising from popular consent, therefore, the public good (and the
constitution) seeks to resolve the security-rights contradiction and give
voice to the people whose life, liberty, and property are at stake. The re-
sulting trust creates a representational relationship between the execu-
tive and the people (as well as between the legislature and the people),
who have consensually delegated political power to, and divided it be-
tween, government institutions. For example, the people owe allegiance to
the executive only so long as he abides by the law and the constitution,
whereas the executive degrades himself in their violation.61 As Locke
writes, the executive is only the Image, Phantom, or Representative of
the Commonwealth, acted by the will of the Society, declared in its Laws;
and thus he has no Will, no Power, but that of the Law.62 Accordingly, al-
though the executive might assert a unitary representational mandate for
the whole of the people when exercising the prerogative during an emer-
gency (perhaps even contra legem), his trust nonetheless requires two
things: First, he must recognize the representational limits of his own in-
stitutional role. Second, he must respect the representational nature of an
elected legislature that reconciles competing claims to the public good by
rival political factions. The executives trust only legitimizes prerogative
power, then, while it remains locked within the constitutional frame-

59 See Lazar, supra note 52 at 69.
60 Dunn, supra note 14 at 124.
61 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 151.
62 Ibid.
63 See Lazar, supra note 52 at 108-11.


The trust that directs the prerogative is thus different from a contrac-
tarian theory of executive authority establishing an agreement between a
single ruler and the people. Such agreement might imply not just that the
executive possessed certain rights to power, but that he alone was obli-
gated to do what, in his sole judgment, he paternalistically might think
best for them.64 So, while the trust does place a duty on the executive to
exercise the prerogative as he judges necessary for the good of the people
he represents, it likewise requires that the executive respect and remain
accountable to the elected legislature. Lockes executive, understood in
this way, is republican. The trust gives him a representational justifica-
tion for the prerogative at the same time that it denies the executive the
final political judgment as to whether it actually serves the public good.
That responsibility, in Lockes constitutional model, lies with the legisla-

C. The Legislative Check

Notwithstanding the importance of, and interpretive controversies
over, the nature of executive power, Lockes constitutional model focuses
primarily on the legislative power. Indeed, his conception of executive
power is defined against it, because the model hinges on the extent to
which the executive has a discretion to act in the absence of (or exception-
ally against) standing legislation. Governing through stable rules, recon-
ciling factional interests, and being composed of elected members makes
the legislaturenot the executivethe central institution of civil gov-
ernment. As Locke writes:

The great end of Mens entering into Society, being the enjoyment of
their Properties in Peace and Safety, and the great instrument and
means of that being the Laws establishd in that Society: The first
and fundamental positive Law of all Commonwealths, is the estab-
lishing of the Legislative Power; as the first and fundamental natu-
ral Law, which is to govern even the Legislative: It self, is the pres-
ervation of the Society, and (as far as will consist with the publick
good) of every person in it.65

64 Even though Locke famously advocated the notion of a social contract, that contract is
one between the individuals forming civil society, not between rulers and the ruled. It
only grants political power in trust, rather than contracting it away. Ross Harrison
suggests, for example, that this political trust arises from a double contractual opera-
tion, in which individuals fictionally contract to form a political society, then subse-
quently create a civil government as a corporate entity (i.e., a corporation) empowered
to act on its behalf (Hobbes, Locke, and Confusions Masterpiece: An Examination of
Seventeenth-Century Political Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2003) at 212). See Grant, supra note 13 at 104.

65 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 134 [emphasis added].


Therefore, the Legislative must needs be the Supream, and all other
Powers in any Members or parts of the Society, derived from and subordi-
nate to it.66 Its institutional location will therefore determine the form of
the commonwealth.67 Influenced by the seventeenth centurys civil wars
and the developments leading to the Glorious Revolution, Lockes empha-
sis on legislative power presaged the formal doctrine of parliamentary
sovereignty, by which Parliament could check the Crowns authority,
guard against its misconduct, and even strip it of its ancient preroga-
tives.68 For example, the legislature would normally have to authorize ex-
ecutive encroachments upon the liberties of the subject.69 It might, on the
other hand, grant limited rule-making authority to the executive, with
guidelines as to its allowable exercise.70 More radically, the legislature
could expressly limit or abolish specific powers historically left solely to
executive discretion, as Parliament did with the 1689 Bill of Rights.71 Leg-
islative limitations such as these establish boundaries, beyond which the
executive cannot act unless he is prepared to do so contra legem under the

Legislation, then, prospectively controls executive power (and might
seek to correct specific executive abuses), while expressing the legisla-
tures own assessment of what the public good requires. As previously ex-
plained, these legislative checks and balances are Lockes structural solu-
tion to the dialectical problem of simultaneously enabling and restraining
executive power. They are at their strongest in domestic matters, which
are most amenable to regulation through slow deliberation and standing
rules. Furthermore, as already explained, these checks formally apply just
as much to control the executives slippery federative power in interna-
tional affairs, as to his exceptional prerogative in times of crisis. However,
any legislative response will have less of a proactive, prospective focus
and more of a reactive, retrospective oneespecially where the legislature
must judge whether the executive was justified in acting contra legem. Al-
though normally deferential to executive discretion in federative and pre-

66 Ibid at para 150.
67 Ibid at paras 132, 134.
68 The theorist of the Revolution is Locke; and it was his conscious effort to justify the in-
novations of 1688: Harold J Laski, Political Thought in England: Locke to Bentham
(London: Oxford University Press, 1961) at 23.

69 See Entick v Carrington (1765), 2 Wils KB 275, 95 ER 807 (requiring legal authority for

executive officers to issue a search warrant and seize private property).

70 See AW Bradley & KD Ewing, Constitutional and Administrative Law, 14th ed (Har-

low, UK: Pearson Education, 2007) at 674-75.

71 An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject, and Settling the Succession of

the Crown, 1689 (UK), 1 Will & Mary, c 2 [1689 Bill of Rights].


rogative matters, the legislature must nevertheless consider how the ex-
ecutive has used his wide discretion in specific instances, as well as over a
protracted period of time. The legislatures cautious, deferential over-
sightcombined with its latent, strong powerthus characterizes its
checking function over executive power.
Far from being inconsistent with the notion of prerogative, legislative

review and approval or disapproval of prerogative decisions is intrinsic to
it. Once prerogative is recognized as merely an extreme degree of execu-
tive discretion in the absence of applicable law, rather than a conceptually
distinct emergency power, there is no basis for theoretically exempting it
from legislative control.72 Instead, there are only circumstantial argu-
ments for more or less legislative deference to the executive, based on
their relative abilities and disabilities for taking swift and decisive action.
From this perspective, it also becomes conceptually impossible that the
People have incroachd upon the Prerogative, when they have got any part
of it to be defined by positive Laws.73 There can be no encroachment, as
such, because the executive neither possesses an exclusive, absolute
sphere of prerogative authority, nor a freestanding right to govern with-
out or against other institutional oversight.
Despite its great authority, the legislature (like the executive) has no
more than a Fiduciary Power to act for certain ends, thus holding its po-
litical power in trust for the good of the people.74 The legislatures trust
has a special representational quality, given that Locke provides for its
election. Although Locke did not expound upon an electoral system, he
nonetheless alluded to public choice in the legislatures composition:

If the Legislative, or any part of it be [made up] of Representatives,
chosen for that time [of assembly] by the People, which afterwards
return into the ordinary state of Subjects, and have no share in the
Legislature but upon a new choice, this power of chusing must also
be exercised by the People, either at certain appointed Seasons, or
else when they are summond to it.75

72 See Lazar, supra note 52.
73 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 163 [emphasis added].
74 Ibid at para 149.
75 Ibid at para 154. It is important to remember that while Lockes legislature may theo-
retically represent the public as a whole, it must not necessarily be popularly elected.
Indeed, this corresponds with the theory of virtual representation under which mem-
bers of Parliament legislate on behalf of both the disfranchised populace at home and
peoples living throughout the Empire. Lockes legislature is fundamentally republican,
not democratic. Historical restrictions on suffrage for those without sufficient wealth,
women, racial minorities, and other groups illustrate the gaps that have existed be-
tween the make-up of the voting electorate and the legislatures responsibility to act on
behalf of the public as a whole. Indeed, property qualifications echoed Lockes own idea


Being in some way chosen by the people, individual legislators maintain
links to various societal interests that keep them more directly account-
able than the executive. The electoral process therefore democratically le-
gitimizes legislative power to check the executive, while that process, in
turn, holds individual legislators publicly accountable for their failures in
office.76 As an elected assembly, then, the legislatures trust embodies an
especially strong representational relationship between it, the people, and
the constitution they have consensually formed.

The elected legislatures fiduciary trust is critical for solving Lockes
problem of controlling prerogative power, especially when the executive
claims a mandate to act for the whole of the people; the question is not
whether the executive can do wrong, but who will judge his actions and
hold him accountable if he does. Some scholars of Locke maintain that
only the people themselves, through popular resistance (discussed below),
have the right to challenge the executives extraconstitutional use of pre-
rogative.77 This paper argues the contrary. Locke constitutionalizes repub-
lican values in an important way: the legislature and the executive share
a representational mandate, just as they share political power. When ex-
ercising the prerogative, the executive acts on behalf of the people in order
to preserve them from danger, but shows restraint to avoid tyranny.
When judging that prerogative (with likely deference), the legislature
similarly acts for the people in order to guard them from tyranny, while
still allowing the executive the discretionary latitude that exigencies de-
mand. Both represent the people from the different perspectives of secu-
rity and rights, and their mutual trusts mean that one (like security and
rights) cannot do without the other.

that one of the primary aims of government and the social contract was to protect prop-
erty rights, justifying greater political participation for propertied individuals. Accord-
ingly, the legislature is morally bound to act not only for the good of qualified electors,
but also for those non-voting individuals for whom the legislature likewise exercises
power in trust. Legislators must weigh the good of their local constituencies and fa-
voured political factions with that of the polity as a whole. The disjunction between a
legislators responsibility to particular interest groups and the greater public good
therefore belies democratic tensions between the needs of the community and the mul-
tiple subgroups having various and conflicting interests. Although Locke would have
assumed that the legislature was electorally accountable to only a small proportion of
the population, and certainly not to a universal electorate, the legislature nevertheless
had a fiduciary obligation to act for the good of the general public. His assumption also
is that the security of one individuals life, liberty, and property is the security of every-
ones. See JW Gough, John Lockes Political Philosophy, 2d ed (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1973) at 123, 128-29.

76 See Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at paras 21, 89.
77 See e.g. Gough, supra note 75 at 45-47, 123.


The legislatureas an elected assembly representing a multitude of
political interestsconsequently works as an institutional intermediary
between the executive and the people. This representational role becomes
more pronounced when judging uses of the prerogative in times of emer-
gency. The legislature does this, when in session, by implicitly or ex-
pressly acquiescing (or not) to the executives decision of the moment. If
not in session, it must later consider an act of indemnity for those execu-
tive actions against the letter of the law. In turn, the executive (subject to
his own trust) is bound to submit to legislative limitations or censure. Ex-
ecutive attempts to thwart the elected legislature through corruption, or
outright defiance, show disdain for the legislatures role as the peoples in-
termediary, violate the public good, and threaten the constitution. Locke
emphasized this point by condemning executive interference with the
election of legislators, which might lead to the dissolution of the civil gov-
ernment.78 The executive also cannot directly and demagogically appeal to
the people, in order to get past its elected assembly. Executive subversion
of the elected assembly, however attempted or achieved, risks a state of
war between the executive and the people.79 Should that happen, only the
peoples right to resist (see below) can save them. It is to prevent such a
state that the legislature has its intermediary role. Lockes constitutional
model thus permits sophisticated institutional representation of the will
of the people, which not only diffuses government power generally, but
also channels public resistance against the executive.80 Consequently,
Legal avenues for redress against tyrannical abuses give effect to the
right of resistance without destabilizing the government.81 Through this

78 See Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at paras 215-216.
79 See Harrison, supra note 64 at 215-16; Dunn, supra note 14 at 178-79. Thomas Jeffer-
son famously put forth such a Lockean argument in the 1776 American Declaration of
Independence in regard to interference with colonial assemblies and laws. (The Consti-
tution of the United States of America and the Declaration of Independence (Garden
City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1948) 11).

80 Dunn, supra note 14 at 182, 181-84.
81 Grant also suggests that Locke justifies extralegal resistance only as a last resort (su-
pra note 13 at 163). As examples of constitutional mechanisms for resistance to execu-
tive overreaching, Grant writes that [i]mpeachment, judicial review, a constitutional
amendment procedure, and trial by jury could all be seen in this light (ibid). See also
ibid at 202-203. Faulkner suggests that the legislature might perhaps even exercise
some political control over subordinate executive magistrates, similar to a system of
ministerial responsibility (supra note 24 at 34-36). See also Langston & Lind, supra
note 18 at 50, 61-65. Corbett, however, would characterize prerogative as an extracon-
stitutional power that cannot be judged by the legislature at all, with the implication
that the executives judgment as to the public good would be absolute, subject to resis-
tance only by another extraconstitutional powerthat of the people, expressing their
right of resistance (supra note 25 at 446-47). Such an extreme position not only down-
plays the strong, representational role that Locke gives to legislative powerincluding


institutional and representational pas de deux or tug-of-war over what
the public good requiresand with little normative precommitmentthe
constitution flexibly controls the prerogative.82

Thus, it is only where the legislature is no longer capable of resisting
executive abusesand thus fulfilling its role as intermediarythat the
peoples right of resistance actually ripens (although, as Part II argues,
the courts now also stand in such an intermediary position that forestalls
popular revolution). As already pointed out, the legislature may rightly
defer to executive discretion and even indemnify actions that are contra
legem. However, it cannot uncritically and habitually surrender its judg-
ment to the executive, so that it abdicates for all practical purposes legis-
lative power and its checking function. It must

govern by promulgated establishd Laws … designed for no other end
ultimately but the good of the People … [and] neither must nor can
transfer the Power of making Laws to any Body else, or place it any
where but where the People have.83

The legislature cannot exercise its popularly entrusted power arbitrarily,
abdicate it by complacency, or delegate it away wholesale to the executive.
The people then have a right of resistance not only against executive tyr-
anny, but also against the corrupted legislature that has betrayed its
trust.84 Nevertheless, Lockes suggestion of periodic elections engages yet

that of limiting prerogativebut also precludes Lockes entire constitutional enterprise.
It offers no solution to Lockes dialectical problem other than violent revolution, con-
fuses executive force with legitimate decision, and elevates executive power back to the
same place of political dominance that his substantive and structural thinking is in-
tended to prevent: see Sean Mattie, Prerogative and the Rule of Law in John Locke
and the Lincoln Presidency (2005) 67:1 Rev of Politics 77 at 87-88; Pasquale Pasquino,
Locke on Kings Prerogative (1998) 26:2 Political Theory 198 at 205 (rejecting legisla-
tive judgment of the prerogative).

82 See Laski, supra note 68 at 44-45; Gough, supra note 75 at 108-109.
83 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 142.
84 See ibid at paras 135-42, 149, 221-22; Steven M Dworetz, The Unvarnished Doctrine:
Locke, Liberalism, and the American Revolution (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,
1990) at 92. Dworetz illustrates the point: [T]he theoretical question of the American
Revolution was, fundamentally, a Lockean question: the extent of the legislative
power (ibid) [emphasis in original, footnotes omitted]. Poole calls attention to another
potential problem of excessive and sweeping emergency legislation that only cloaks ex-
traordinary executive powers with the appearance of legality (supra note 15 at 252-58).
Such a development masks the truly exceptional moment of prerogative decision, when
the might of executive power is bared and therefore exposes itself to critical reflection
by the people as to its legitimacy and perhaps invites resistance. A slow slide into tyr-
anny, where it is difficult to determine just when the legislature has abdicated its own
fiduciary obligations, is an admitted problem that must be judged in degrees by the
people. Because the Lockean constitution grants no legitimacy to executive power exer-
cised amidst such structural decay and political decadence, however, it becomes irrele-


another structural backup within his constitutional model, so that the
people may correct a legislature that decides poorly or does not ade-
quately check growing or abusive executive power. That is, through elec-
tions, the people can oust those legislators failing in their fiduciary obliga-
tion, as judged by the electorate. Elections allow the public to turn the
rascals out, and replace them with legislators more closely attuned to
public sentiment. Only where a sitting legislature has become persistently
corrupt, or the electoral system is inadequate for correction of the prob-
lem, do institutionalized means for resistance (that is, the legislature as
intermediary) give way to a popular right of revolution. The people, who
initially consented to form a political society and establish a civil govern-
ment to act on their behalf, then stand once again in a state of nature,
face to face with the tyrant (whether executive or legislative).85 The public
has an appeal to Heaven, which is essentially a call to trial by battle, and
so possesses moral justification in rebelling.86

The legislature, operating properly as a constitutional intermediary
for the people, stabilizes both the constitution and civil society against
emergencies and the prerogative. First recourse to the legislature as a
check on the executive (rather than to the peoples right to resist) enables
the constitution to work flexibly and fluidly (if sometimes under strain),
without constant, dangerous social upheavals. Lockes constitutional
model is accordingly self-correcting, preventing frequent descents into
tumult by institutionally counterbalancing a strong executive with a pow-
erful legislature.87 Lockes famous call for revolution is only an extreme
and last recourse against persistent and severe executive abuses, when
the legislature is unable or unwilling to intercede on the peoples behalf.
Such resistance comes with the dissolution of a civil government and a
constitution no longer able to correct abuses. Because the legislature has

vant whether such authority is characterized as lawful, a disguised prerogative, or
something else. The only consideration is whether the legislature remains institution-
ally able or willing to hold the executive to account. If the people judge that it is not,
then the constitution is corrupted and they may resist the government.

85 See Harrison, supra note 64 at 215-18. This is when rule-bound legality shatters to re-
veal the authentic political moment, when people and sovereign stand face to face:
Poole, supra note 15 at 252. However, Poole does not find such a moment when the con-
stitutions structural checks have failed; rather, he too quickly identifies it right away
when prerogative power is claimed or when there is a bad exercise of the preroga-
tive, a readiness that allows too much presumptive legitimacy to exceptional executive
actions, downplays accountability to the legislature, and, ultimately, gives the executive
institutional pre-eminence (ibid).

86 See Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at paras 155-56, 167-68.
87 Locke explains that one purpose of political society is to provide for a means of appeal
when those in authority attempt to do injury to the public or corrupt the laws to that ef-
fect: see ibid at paras 20-21, 89.


a special representative mandate for the people and functions as its in-
termediary, the executive cannot not subvert or bypass it by direct ap-
peals to the peopleeven pursuant to his own claims to a popular man-
date. Should he stubbornly arrogate himself over the legislature, then war
might indeed follow between him and the peoples representativesan in-
stitutional struggle for political power like Englands civil wars and the
Glorious Revolution, the end of which Locke witnessed. There is, however,
one last possible institutional check on the executive (as well as the legis-
lature), which Locke did not describe. This check requires a new institu-
tional addition to his constitutional architecture, but one that still fits
with its overall aesthetic of substance and form. That addition is the judi-
ciary, counterpoised against both the executive and legislative branches,
and under its own unique fiduciary trust to uphold the rule of law.

II. Judicial Power

A. A Constitution of Law

Lockes constitutional model, a forerunner to modern separation of
powers theory, rests on a dualistic structure. He divides political power
between the executive and legislature, who check and balance one an-
other to prevent the centralization of authority and facilitate dialogical
decision making between them. Each of these has its own trust to act for
the people, introducing a republican element to his constitution. To the
contemporary observer, whether accustomed to the more pronounced
American system of separation of powers or the more blurred Westmin-
ster variants, an independent judiciary of some sort is notably absent
from Lockes scheme.88 However, while he gives no specific attention to
the role of courts, his constitutional model fundamentally rests on natural
rights and the need for a civil government that reasonably judges disputes
over them. Adjudication is the essence of politics: Those who are united
into one Body, and have a common establishd Law and Judicature to ap-
peal to, with Authority to decide Controversies between them, and punish
Offenders, are in Civil Society one with another.89 Locke asserts the need
for appeals against wrongs and judges to settle conflicts, so as to end the
destructive state of war between individuals.90 As suggested in the first
section, the surrender of individual rights to ascertain, execute, as well as

88 See e.g. Dennis Baker, Not Quite Supreme: The Courts and Coordinate Constitutional
Interpretation (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2010) at 56, 61-63, 81-89,
145-52 (on the important, if contested, role of the judiciary in Canada and elsewhere).

89 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 87 [emphasis added].
90 See ibid at paras 20-21.


judge natural law roughly corresponds to his institutional division of leg-
islative and executive powers. Thus, while Locke does not establish an in-
dependent judiciary to go along with these, he nonetheless infuses his en-
tire constitution with a judicial power. He considers the main function of
the State as essentially judicial,91 even though he appears to combine ju-
dicial and legislative power in a way that is not entirely clear in meaning.
In a commonwealth, the Judge is the Legislative, or Magistrates ap-
pointed by it.92 Such a power, it seems, can be either the legislature in its
general capacity to govern society through standing laws, or some lesser
officials charged with the administration of justice in specific cases.93 So
while Locke does not institutionalize judicial power separate from and
alongside the executive and legislature, his constitutional model leaves
ample room for its further development.94
Accordingly, one can read-in an institutional role for courts to ad-
minister justice in specific cases, as well as to temper the exercise of po-
litical power generally. Locke states quite clearly that the legislature,
though supreme, nevertheless, must govern through indifferent and up-
right Judges, who are to decide Controversies by those Laws.95 Limited
by its trust, the legislature must not only decide the Rights of the Subject

91 MJC Vile, Constitutionalism and the Separation of Powers (Oxford: Clarendon Press,

1967) at 59.

92 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 89.
93 See ibid at para 136.
94 See Gough, supra note 75 at 108. In the British system, one might note that, while they
are independent, the courts historically originated as forums for the Crowns royal jus-
tice, while under the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty they remain bound by and
subject to legislative will. To further confuse matters, despite the royal connection of the
law courts, the House of Lords historically acted both as the upper legislative chamber
and the court of final appeal, while the Lord Chancellor was at once a Member of Par-
liament and a Crown minister. Thus, the British judiciary was an amalgam of executive
and legislative authority. Gough (ibid at 108-109, 125-26), suggests that judicial power
in Lockes model would fall under the executive power, while Jeffrey Goldsworthy ex-
plains that, in Cokes day, the conceptual line between legislative and judicial power
was often indistinct, so that Parliament was conceived as both the supreme legislature
and the highest court (The Sovereignty of Parliament: History and Philosophy (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1999) at 114-20). The former position is consistent with the historical
status of the courts in the British constitution as instruments of royal justice, while the
latter accounts for the judicial role of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords,
the upper legislative chamber, and Lockes explicit reference to the Legislature as
judge. Pursuant to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 ((UK), c 4), however, the Lords
Appellate Committee has now been abolished, with the new Supreme Court taking over
its judicial role on 1 October 2009: see Constitutional Reform Act 2005, SI 2009/11. The
functional separation of judicial power, in the British constitution, has at long last been
institutionally formalized.

95 Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at para 131 [empahasis added].


by promulgated standing Laws, but also by known Authorisd Judges.96
The legislature can only pass laws that are to be uniformly and equally
applied for the public good, can only take property by popular consent,
and cannot delegate away its legislative power.97 From these prohibitions,
it is only a short jump to say that courts should fairly administer those
laws, treat like cases alike, and ensure that government officials only in-
fringe personal liberties pursuant to lawful authorityall hallmarks of
adjudication upon which A.V. Dicey later defined the rule of law.98 Reject-
ing arbitrary legislation in this way (as well as, by implication, arbitrary
executive enforcement of it), Locke lays the groundwork for the institu-
tionally separate administration of justice, based upon natural law princi-
ples. Indeed, Lockes premise can be related to a modern natural law the-
ory like that of Lon Fuller.99 A full examination of any connections be-
tween the two is not attempted here, but a basic comparison is straight-
forward enough. Expounding on natural justice, Fuller identifies eight de-
siderata necessary to a true legal system, and which comprise the inter-
nal morality of the law.100 If these requirements are substantially lack-
ing, then the political system is not one based upon law, properly so-
called. In that case, what passes as law is no longer a purposeful, ra-
tional enterprise, but is instead only a tool for the imposition of the rulers
arbitrary will. Fullers purpose for the law is admittedly rather modest,
being that of subjecting human conduct to the guidance and control of
general rules.101 As such, his conception of natural justice lacks Lockes
normative imperative that government only act for the public good (even
though that good is contestable), in order to protect natural rights to life,
liberty, and property. Nevertheless, Fullers argument is consistent with
Lockes assertion that the legislatures trust requires that it govern
through impartial, predictable, and reasonable laws.102 Of course, in the
Second Treatise, Locke does not discuss anywhere a judicial power like

96 Ibid at para 136 [emphasis added].
97 See ibid at paras 142, 135-41.
98 AV Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, 8th ed (Toronto:

MacMillan, 1915) at 179ff.

99 See generally Lon L Fuller, The Morality of Law, revised ed (New Haven, Conn: Yale

University Press, 1969).

100 Fullers desiderata are (1) a failure to make any rules at all; (2) failure to publicize

them; (3) abuse of retroactive legislation; (4) failure to make rules understandable; (5)
enactment of contradictory rules; (6) requiring conduct beyond the powers of the parties
obliged to obey; (7) introducing frequent changes making orientation of the subject im-
possible; and (8) failure to ensure a congruence between the rules and their actual ad-
ministration (ibid at 39).

101 Ibid at 146.
102 See Faulkner, supra note 24 at 23.


this. Still, his political theory lays the theoretical justifications for articu-
lating such a power, just as his constitutional model of checks and bal-
ances can accommodate a sophisticated court system.

B. Modifying Locke

Even if one accepts this papers interpretation of Lockes constitutional
model, there remain two main objections to including an independent ju-
diciary within it. The first is that Locke himself did not do so; the inclu-
sion would therefore contradict and undermine his legislative-executive
dualism, which relies on political instead of legal checks on executive
power. That argument is overly rigid, however, and overlooks the fact that
Lockes model is general, flexible in light of local circumstances and his-
torical developments. It also ignores the widespread acceptance of the
modern separation of powers theory, whereby the judiciary has assumed a
constitutional role equal in station to the legislature and executive. On
the other hand, once Lockes model is modified to include the courts, it
then requires some form of judicial controls even on prerogative power
and the elected legislature. The second objection, addressed in the next
section, is that unelected judges lack the democratic legitimacy to chal-
lenge executive emergency actions intended to preserve the public from
harm, let alone somehow limit or control acts of the legislature. Accord-
ingly, control of the prerogative is again a political matter, left to the
elected legislature. That position is shortsighted, confusing the judiciarys
lack of direct electoral accountability for the absence of a republican trust.
Independent and impartial courts exercise their judicial power for the
people, so that they have their own representational mandate to preserve
the rule of law against executive abuses of power.

The first objection above downplays the fact that Lockes constitution
was both prescriptive of an idealized form of government and descriptive
of the constitutional changes he witnessed in the turbulent England of the
seventeenth century. From its inception, then, Lockes model was attuned
to political conditions and historical trends, as much as it had emanated
from rational theorizing. Locke imagined a constitution that is not an ab-
stract doctrine, but that historically embraces English constitutional
practice.103 His model is adaptable by nature, and is designed to be ap-
plied beyond the circumstances of its conception, if not everywhere.104 As
a practicable model, Lockes constitution invites reinterpretation and ap-
plication in light of historical experiences and political developments. The
same constitutional instability in England that influenced Locke might

103 Mansfield, supra note 23 at 190.
104 Ibid.


also have warned him that even his constitutional model might evolve
over time, either slowly or through more sudden, momentous changes.105
Furthermore, his own notion of popular consent as the basis of political
society necessarily offered a possibility of change, so long as the basic sub-
stantive and structural principles of his constitutional model remained.
For example, not long after publication of the Second Treatise, Parliament
passed the Act of Settlement of 1701, guaranteeing life tenure for judges,
and thereby taking an important step in establishing the independence of
the judiciary. Later, the United States Constitution of 1787emerging
from revolution and representing a Lockean moment of the consensual
formation of a new political societyclearly elevated the judiciary to its
full place within modern separation of powers theory. This development
was the culmination of several intellectual influences, but Montesquieus
thinking, common law ideas, and the articulation of popular sovereignty
especially guided judicial power to a Lockean end. As a result of these de-
velopments with the modern separation of powers doctrine, the judiciary
has attained a crucial constitutional role in preserving the rule of law.106
It holds its own power in trust for the people and sits comfortably within a
new, tripartite constitutional structure. In this modified version of Lockes
model, the executive is no longer just politically accountable to the legisla-
ture for its use of the prerogative, but is legally accountable to the courts
as well.
Accordingly, a brief look at the American revolutionary era (broadly
ranging from the late colonial period to the adoption of the Constitution in
1787) illustrates the historical contingency of Lockes constitutional
model. That is, over time, these events combined with Lockes ideas in a
way that would, over a long period of time, influence and enhance the ju-
diciarys constitutional prestige throughout the common law countries. Of
course, the court systems in these countries have developed in different
ways, as have their precise constitutional roles. Nevertheless, the Ameri-
can example surveyed here is particularly significant because Locke was
arguably the pre-eminent theoretical influence on American political
thinkers and the US Constitutions innovative system for the separation
of powers.107 His theories of natural rights, the social contract, and consti-
tutional checks and balances potently combined with radical Whig polem-
ics to fortify the revolutionary rhetoric about fundamental liberties and

105 See Gough, supra note 75 at 115.
106 See Faulkner, supra note 24 at 36-38.
107 See Jerome Huyler, Locke in America: The Moral Philosophy of the Founding Era (Law-
rence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 1995) at 251. See also Dworetz, supra note 84
at 70.


the threat of tyranny.108 Accordingly, many American thinkers during the
period invoked Locke to justify independence, challenge government
power, and frame new constitutions at both the state and federal levels.109
Although polemicists and statesmen took inspiration from many intellec-
tual sources, Locke, Montesquieu, and the English common law remained
among the most influential.110 However, neither the colonial grievances
provoking the American Revolution nor the early national troubles lead-
ing to the Constitution of 1787 need any explanation here.111 It is enough

108 For a brief description of the Whiggery that arose in the late seventeenth and early
eighteenth centuries in opposition to Britains perceived constitutional corruptions, see
WB Gwyn, The Meaning of the Separation of Powers: An Analysis of the Doctrine from
its Origins to the Adoption of the United States Constitution (New Orleans: Tulane Uni-
versity, 1965) at 82-83. For Whig thought in the American colonies, see Bernard Bailyn,
The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, revised ed (Cambridge, Mass:
Belknap Press, 1992) at 28-38; Gordon S Wood, The Creation of the American Republic,
1776-1787 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of
Early American History and Culture, 1969) at ch 1 [Wood, American Republic]. Laski
refers to Locke as the first Whig (supra note 68 at 40). But see Josephson, supra note
24 at 211-12; Faulkner, supra note 24 at 26; David Resnick, Locke and the Rejection of
the Ancient Constitution (1984) 12:1 Political Theory 97 at 97. Resnick finds that
Lockes ideas broke with the Whigs tradition-bound exhortations about the ancient
constitution, going further than simply justifying the constitutional settlement of 1689
in order to propose a more radical arrangement of popular government.

109 See Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitu-
tion (Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 1985) at 60-66; Wood, American Re-
public, supra note 108 at 151-52.

110 McDonald, supra note 109 at 59-60, 66-67; Wood, American Republic, supra note 108 at
7-8. Plato and other classical thinkers, along with the cities of Athens and Rome par-
ticularly, provided illustrious examples of republican government based upon virtue. As
JGA Pocock has shown, classical republicanism would return as a potent political force
in Renaissance Italy, with great subsequent influence throughout Western Europe (The
Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tra-
dition, 2d ed (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003)). In England, Harring-
tons Oceana, Mores Utopia, and the great political upheavals of the seventeenth cen-
tury would carry on this republican tradition (James Harrington, The Oceana and
Other Works (London: Buchanans Head for A Miller, 1737; J Churton Collins, ed, Sir
Thomas Mores Utopia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1904)). Other sources of natural rights
theories included Pufendorf and Grotius, while Hobbes introduced the sovereign Levia-
than. With Montesquieu being the greatest of them, Enlightenment writers such as
Hume and Rousseau would challenge classical notions of republican virtue, and inspire
Madisons reliance upon enlightened self-interest and his fear of self-serving factions.

111 Changing attitudes towards authority and republican ideals spread throughout the
Western world during the Enlightenment, and found particularly fertile ground in the
American colonies. For an examination of the long-term, deeper socio-economic factors
contributing to the outbreak of the American Revolution, see generally Gordon S Wood,
The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1991) ch 6-10 [Wood,
Radicalism]. See also Edward Countryman, The American Revolution, revised ed (New
York: Hill & Wang, 2003) at 35-49 (a review of the imperial political crises in the dec-
ades leading up to the outbreak of war in 1775).


to say that the imperial crises arising in the 1760s began a nation-
building process leading to the Constitution of 1787, which established a
federal government of limited powers delegated by the people. What is
important for this article is that American constitutional thinking embod-
ied an idealized Whig vision of government, formalizing the institutional
division between executive, legislative, and judicial power along Lockean
lines. Thus, American political theory elevated the judiciary to an inde-
pendent third branch, capable of, and democratically legitimized in, con-
trolling the other two.
After Locke, Montesquieu was among the greatest intellectual influ-
ences on the American development of judicial power; he made Lockes
separation of powers the keystone of his own more splendid arch.112 As
Montesquieu wrote:

[T]here is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from
the legislative and executive powers. Were it joined with the legisla-
tive, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary
control; for the judge would be then the legislator. Were it joined to
the executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of
an oppressor.113

Montesquieus constitutional division of power was Lockean, in that it dif-
fused authority to prevent the accumulation and arbitrary exercise of
power by any one institution. His theory went a step further, however, by
institutionally separating the judicial function from both the legislative
and executive powers. Montesquieus idea of separation was also flexible,
so that all three powers checked and balanced one another. Each of the
three branches, in different ways, could therefore hold the others to their
fiduciary trusts (as explained further below).114

Just as Lockes model reflected the 1689 constitutional settlement,
Montesquieus inspiration was the early eighteenth-century British con-
stitution. Although that constitution resembled Lockes legislative-
executive dualism (i.e., counterbalancing Parliament and the Crown),
Montesquieu took notice of the significant institutional role that the royal
courts had assumed in practice. He probably did not imagine judicial
power to encompass the nullification of laws, so the judiciarys power
would likely be found only in its impartial adjudication of legal rights and

112 Laski, supra note 68 at 49. See also McDonald, supra note 109 at 80.
113 Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws: A Compendium of the First English Edition, ed by
David Wallace Carrithers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977) book XI, ch 6
at para 5.

114 Vile, supra note 91 at 90-91.


obligations, free from legislative or executive interference.115 Still, he
would have noticed the independence of English judges since the Act of
Settlement, the courts role in developing the common law, and courts use
of statutory interpretation to temper legislative power and protect indi-
vidual liberties. The actual constitutional role of English courts only un-
derscored that Montesquieus own classification of government power into
three branches was neither a rigidly formalistic one, nor based on a mixed
government between Crown, Lords, and Commonsas Blackstone, dis-
cussed below, would describe it. Instead, Montesquieu imagined a consti-
tution where Parliament, Crown, and courts checked and balanced one
another through their respective legislative, executive, and adjudicatory
functions.116 Montesquieus theory thus institutionalized a distinct judicial
power by building upon Lockes originally dualistic structure and further-
ing its purpose of controlling political power generally.
Along with Locke and Montesquieu, the common law also buttressed
revolutionary arguments for an independent judicial power. One can ar-
gue that the common law itself had earlier influenced Locke, whose own
ideas about natural rights and limited government, in turn, became em-
bedded within it. Apparent links between Lockean thought and the com-
mon law resurfaced in Blackstones Commentarieshighly influential
throughout Britain and its colonies. Blackstone echoed Locke in his dis-
cussions on balanced government, natural law, and the consensual basis
for political society.117 He likewise struggled with a similar dialectical
problem to Locke; that is, how to justify and limit a sovereign Parliament.
To resolve this tension, he elided distinctions between positive and fun-
damental law: statutes reflected the latter, just as judges discovered the
common law. This confusion reflected a juristic transition between natu-
ral law theories and emerging positivism in English legal thought.118
With that confusion, Blackstone inadvertently undermined other con-
stitutional ideas that he was defending. He presented a rationalized, posi-
tivistic approach to legal thinking that still maintained strong links with
the common law tradition, based upon custom and first principles.119 Ac-

115 Montesquieu, supra note 113 at para 32: Of the three powers above-mentioned the ju-
diciary is in some measure next to nothing. There remain therefore only two. See
Gwyn, supra note 108 at 103, 111.

116 See McDonald, supra note 109 at 80-82; Gwyn, supra note 108 at 106-13.
117 Blackstone, supra note 37 at 119-23, 149-51, 259-60.
118 For a criticism of Blackstones constitutional ideas, see Laski, supra note 68 at 117-22.
119 See Blackstone, supra note 37 at 38-43, 47-52, 77-80; Wood, American Republic, supra
note 108 at 10; Vile, supra note 91 at 104-05; Michael P Zuckert, Launching Liberalism:
On Lockean Political Philosophy (Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 2002) at
238-40, 256-57, 259, 262-63.


cordingly, Blackstone described a balanced constitution that fit quite
well with Lockes constitutional model; both used constitutional structure
to realize natural law and address the rights-security contradiction pre-
sented by strong civil government. In Blackstones constitution, the insti-
tutional division of social estates limited government power, just as natu-
ral law guided its exercise. Crown, Lords, and Commons combined and
balanced each other in the King-in-Parliament. However, by Blackstones
day, this understanding of the British constitution was already weaken-
ing. Many Whigs at home and abroad saw the growth of responsible gov-
ernment, the party system, and political patronage as undermining an
idealized, balanced constitution. According to some accounts, this balance
of social forces, as well as the institutional separation of legislative and
executive power, would be mostly fiction by the early nineteenth cen-
tury.120 In any case, Blackstones dated view of a class-bound, balanced
constitution was not as important as two other undercurrents in his work.
First, he had not found a satisfactory resolution between the limits of
natural law and legislative power, thereby inviting a constitutional re-
sponse of some kind. Second, his constitution hinged on the functional di-
vision of political power between legislative, executive, and judicial insti-
tutions just as much as it did on the institutional balance between old
feudal estates. Thus, both Montesquieu and Locke lurked beneath Black-
stones orthodox description of the British constitution. Parliament passed
statutes, judges found the common law, and the Crownpossessing its
ancient prerogative powersenforced the law and provided for security.
All three institutions worked together to realize natural law in the most
practicable way, serve the public good, and check and balance each other.
Blackstone was highly influential in the American colonies, where he
was widely read by generations of lawyers, judges, and statesmen. His
dated constitutional account even contributed to revolutionary indigna-
tion among his Whiggish readers, as it only highlighted the contemporary
corruption of the ancient constitution. To colonists in opposition, Crown
ministers appeared to undermine legislative independence while Parlia-
ment seemed increasingly to abuse its power over unrepresented and
largely self-governing colonies. In the second half of the eighteenth cen-
tury, then, this discrepancy between Blackstones constitution as prac-
ticed and as Whiggishly idealized contributed to the ideological conflicts
leading to war and American independence. Blackstones role in these de-
velopments was ironic, given that he favoured Parliaments supremacy
over the colonies, despite American appeals to natural law. However,
some of his language in the Commentaries recalled Chief Justice Cokes

120 See e.g. Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution, revised ed (London: Henry S King,

1872) ch 2 at 33ff.


opinion in Dr. Bonhams Case, suggesting that when an Act of Parlia-
ment is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to
be performed, the common law will controul it, and adjudge such Act to be
void.121 Accordingly, Blackstones discussions on natural law, the power
of the courts, and a balanced constitution imparted special, unintended
meanings to those Americans concerned that Parliament had unjustly in-
fringed their liberties (or, later, that even state assemblies had legislated
with intemperate revolutionary zeal and without other adequate institu-
tional checks). Blackstone thus became the common law bridge over
which American constitutional thinking could cross from the balanced
constitution of social estates and parliamentary sovereignty to a govern-
ment of a functional separation of powers, limited by first principles. In-
spired by the Commentaries (or, rather, a certain reading of it):

[P]rotesting colonials fused the constitutional rights of Englishmen
with the natural rights of man, thereby merging the views of such
legal luminaries and former chief justices of England as Coke,
Hobart, and Holt, and the natural law views of Pufendorf, Burlama-
qui, and Locke.122

The fusion of natural law and common law with a Lockean perspective on
constitutional structures was another critical step in lifting judicial power
to an equal place alongside that of the legislature and executive.
Despite Montesquieus own admission that judicial power was weaker
than the legislative and executive powers, the above influences would
combine to inspire the Constitution of 1787, clearly establishing all three
as coordinate branches of government.123 Article III established The Ju-
dicial Power of the United States, although it did not explicitly set out
how the courts would, in practice, check and balance the Congress and the
President. Nevertheless, Locke, Montesquieu, the common law, and popu-
lar sovereignty (discussed in the next section) laid foundations for the Su-
preme Courts eventual assertion of a power to invalidate unconstitutional
acts of Congress.124 To be clear, the purpose of these American examples

121 (1610), 8 Co Rep 113b at 118, 77 ER 646 (KB). See Blackstone, supra note 37 at 41, 54,

89, 91.

122 Huyler, supra note 107 at 221.
123 Montesquieu, supra note 113 at para 4. Alexander Hamilton similarly found the judici-
ary to be the least dangerous branch, with power of neither sword nor purse (No 78
in Rossiter, supra note 37). Nevertheless, he argued that limitations on legislative
power could only be preserved through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it
must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. With-
out this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing
(ibid at 466).

124 Marbury v Madison, 5 US (1 Cranch) 137 (1803). This American approach to judicial
review depended upon the acceptance of the idea of checks and balances as essential


has not been to argue for a written constitution, insist on the judicial nul-
lification of laws, or disregard historical developments in other countries.
Rather, the examples here only illustrate an especially important histori-
cal process by which Lockes executive-legislative dualism evolved into the
modern concept of the separation of powers. Under this general doctrine,
an independent judicial branch must check and balance the other two
powers, but in an effective way, adapted to local political circumstances.
The Lockean constitution, so modified and locally applied, still preserves
the political dynamic between the executive and the legislative branches.
However, it also legalizes their fiduciary trusts in one manner or another.
Moreover, in controlling the other branches, the judiciary upholds its own
trust to preserve the rule of law. This trust gives the judiciary a represen-
tational mandate all of its own. However, one last American example from
the revolutionary erathe articulation of popular sovereigntygives the
final, republican justification for judicial control of even prerogative

C. Popular Sovereignty and the Judicial Trust

Due to historical developments like those just described, the modern
separation of powers doctrine gives the judiciary a constitutional role
equal in importance to the legislature and the executive. As such, it is en-
sconced within a Lockean constitution of checks and balances. Like the
other two branches, the judiciary exercises its power in trust on behalf of
the people who have consensually delegated that power to it. Even if
judges are not electorally accountable (indeed, perhaps just because they
usually are not), the judiciarys trust carries a special, indirect represen-
tational mandate to hold impartially both the legislature and the execu-
tive to their prescribed powers and to the rule of law. This trust, emanat-
ing from the people, therefore has a republican quality. It gives the judici-
ary an intermediary role between the people and the other two branches,
much like the role described earlier for the legislature.125 Turning once
more to the American revolutionary experience for illustration, the doc-
trine of popular sovereignty shows particularly why judicial power and

barriers to the improper exercise of power, combined with a written constitution de-
lineating government powers: Vile, supra note 91 at 157-58.

125 As Hamilton noted:

It is not otherwise to be supposed, that the Constitution could intend to en-
able the representatives of the people to substitute their will to that of their
constituents. It is far more rational to suppose that the courts were designed
to be an intermediate body between the people and the legislature in order,
among other things, to keep the latter within the limits assigned to their au-
thority (Rossiter, supra note 37 at 467).


review of the prerogative is democratically legitimate. Although elsewhere
this doctrine developed differently, perhaps less dramatically, and with
distinct legal implications, it also came to underpin constitutional gov-
ernment in other common law countries, such as Canada and the United
Kingdom itself.126
Rebellious American colonists reacted not only against the King, but
also against a Parliament that claimed illimitable, sovereign authority to
legislate for the unrepresented colonies in their internal matters. To revo-
lutionaries, absolute parliamentary power could be just as arbitrary and
tyrannical as unrestrained royal power, a danger many saw in imperial
laws like the so-called Intolerable Acts of 1774, which (among other
things) closed the port of Boston, altered the Massachusetts government,
and allowed trials for local crimes in English rather than colonial courts.
Such unpopular legislation only proved to many colonists the importance
of first principles as restraints upon government power. In much Whig-
gish American thinking, the rule of lawwith some kind of judicial
checks on legislative and executive authoritybecame closely bound up
with a constitution and the public good.127 After achieving independence,
however, the Americans still had to struggle with how to control the pow-
ers of elected government officials who could claim a representational
mandate to do the will of the people, as they perceived it. Republican gov-
ernment, and the new relationship between governors and governed,
brought its own dialectal problem about how to empower and control civil
government, both at the state and national levels.
In America, where older social distinctions based upon class were

weak and political participation was for the time relatively open, Whig-
gish ideas had long emphasized the power of elected colonial assemblies
responsible to local constituencies. Many Americans kept faith after the
Revolution that the establishment of popular legislatures, animated by
republican virtue and paired with weak governors, would avoid the heavy-
handed manner of government that they had attributed to both Parlia-
ment and the Crown. Early constitutional experimentation with state
governments, however, unfortunately demonstrated that a majority in a
republican legislature, without adequate executive or judicial counter-
weights, could act just as arbitrarily and unwisely as Parliament or the

126 As Dicey writes, the word sovereignty is sometimes employed in a political rather
than in a strictly legal sense (supra note 98 at 70). To this he adds, The electors are a
part of and the predominant part of the politically sovereign power. But the legally sov-
ereign power is assuredly, as maintained by all the best writers on the constitution,
nothing but Parliament (ibid at 72). See also Janet Ajzenstat, The Canadian Found-
ing: John Locke and Parliament (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2007) at
xiii, 24-27, 33-36.

127 See Wood, American Republic, supra note 108 at 53-54, 344-54.


Crown supposedly had.128 Thus, by 1787, many Americans increasingly
understood that no one branch of government (including an elected legis-
lature) could be endowed with unlimited authority.129 Post-independence
experiences with democracy, as reflected in James Madisons essays num-
bers 10 and 51 in The Federalist quickly turned into political rough-and-
tumbles between rival political factions and sometimes less than virtuous
public officials.
Republican government, then, could not be securely entrusted to im-
perfect legislatures tempted to claim democratic infallibilitya notion
that smacked far too much of parliamentary supremacy. Instead, there
was a need to emphasize the ultimate sovereignty of the people, who had
delegated only limited power to their government institutions and offi-
cials, none of which could ever entirely be trusted.130 Popular sovereignty,
therefore, not only propped up and explained Lockes notion of the public
good in clear republican terms, but it also transformed Lockes checks and
balances into a distinctly modern separation of powers theory. As Gordon
Wood explains:

The assumption behind this remarkable elaboration and diffusion of
the idea of separation of powers was that all governmental power,
whether in the hands of governors, judges, senators, or representa-
tives, was essentially indistinguishable; … Only the great changes
taking place in these years in the Americans understanding of rep-
resentation and the peoples relationship to the governmentall
culminations of a century and a half of experience in the New World
brought to a head by the anomalies inherent in the constitution-
making experiments and summed up in the new meaning given to

128 See ibid at 63-65, 404-13. Concentration of power even in legislative, like executive,
hands would also violate Lockes rejection of Absolute Dominion: Josephson, supra
note 24 at 218-19, citing Locke, Second Treatise, supra note 1 at paras 174, 201.

129 Thus, to understand the significance of popular sovereignty, The missing link here is
the people, that is, the people as distinct from their representatives: Barbara Aronstein
Black, An Astonishing Political Innovation: The Origins of Judicial Review (1988) 49
U Pitt L Rev 691 at 695.

130 James Madison framed the republican problem:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to
govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be
necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over
men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to
control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A de-
pendence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government;
but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions
(No 51 in Rossiter, supra note 37 at 322).


the idea of the sovereignty of the peoplemade this assumption pos-

By the time of the constitutional convention in 1787, most or all of the
framers would have already conceived of the sovereignty of the people,
which both legitimized and limited all forms of government power. This
idea clearly built upon Lockes arguments for the consensual nature of po-
litical society and for the importance of an elected assembly. It also
founded the emerging separation of powers doctrine not upon the institu-
tionalization of a feudal class system, paternalistic notions of government,
or classical ideas of republican virtue, but on democratic representation,
rational governing processes, and a cautious mistrust of human frailties.
As a result, all three branches came to represent the popular sovereign
equally, with each independently exercising its limited power on the peo-
ples behalf and with an eye on the actions of the other two. Popular sov-
ereignty thus simultaneously empowered and limited government by im-
buing three separate branches with their own competing republican
trusts. As such, it resonated with Anglo-American Whig polemics, which
advocated democratic institutions, while still distrusting government and
distressing about its natural penchant for corruption and tyranny.132

The enabling and disabling aspects of popular sovereignty had a pro-
found impact on Lockes constitution of structure. Because the legislative,
executive, and judicial brancheswhether or not popularly electedeach
held its political power from the popular sovereign and independently ex-
ercised it in trust for the people, each branch had a representational
mandate of its own. Equally republican in nature, government institu-
tions were no longer differentiated by either old social orders or even de-
mocratically-minded distinctions between elected and unelected officials;
rather, the branches were defined solely by functions and personnel.133
With this new republican, functional separation of powers theory, mod-
ern conceptions of public power replaced older archaic ideas of personal
monarchical government.134 This theory also got around the problem of

131 Wood, American Republic, supra note 108 at 453. He expanded on the justification of

popular sovereignty:

Popular consent now became the exclusive justification for the exercise of au-
thority by all parts of the governmentnot just the houses of representatives
but senates, governors, and even judges. As sovereign expressions of the
popular will, these new republican governments acquired an autonomous
public power that their monarchical predecessors had never possessed or
even claimed (Wood, Radicalism, supra note 111 at 187).

132 See McDonald, supra note 109 at 76-78.
133 See Wood, American Republic, supra note 108 at 151-52, 383-85, 445-49, 603-604.
134 Wood, Radicalism, supra note 111 at 187.


how to control the elected legislature and justify public power in less de-
mocratically accountable hands. The American articulation of popular
sovereignty, then, was the final, crucial step, with which even an un-
elected judiciary could claim a constitutional responsibility to guard the
rule of law and, with it, a power to control (in some way) both the legisla-
tive and executive branches.135
What all of the above American examples show is that, although
Locke originally set out an executive-legislative dualistic structure, the
judiciary has historically matured into an independent third branch of
government. First, it promotes the constitutional goals of Lockes struc-
tural model, as it further diffuses government power and stands as an ad-
ditional institutional check upon the other branches. Second, the judiciary
has a republican fiduciary trust to uphold the rule of law. It therefore has
its own representational mandate, holding its power from and exercising
it on behalf of the popular sovereign. Third, although not explored further
in this article, courts fulfill this process through the common law proc-
esses of adjudication. They resolve particular disputes, apply the laws
fairly and equally, treat like cases alike, and ensure that all government
institutions and officials act within the confines of their delegated powers.
In doing so, courts also confront or defer to the other branches as the pub-
lic good requires, thus allowing for various degrees of executive discretion
as circumstances require (as with legislative deference). Of course, par-
ticular legal forms, doctrines, procedures, and remedies can vary from ju-
risdiction to jurisdiction, and can adapt to emergencies that put them un-
der stress.136 Still, differences notwithstanding, courts cannot abdicate
their fiduciary duty to keep the legislative and executive branches under
the rule of law, insofar as possible.137

135 The department of government which benefited most from this new, enlarged defini-
tion of separation of powers was the judiciary: Wood, American Republic, supra note
108 at 453-54, 159-61. Aronstein Black asserts that popular sovereignty means ipso
facto judicial review (supra note 129 at 696). Of course, that review might take differ-
ent forms in different constitutional systems.

136 See Lazar, supra note 52 at 148-53.
137 For example, Vile finds that all branches have both negative and positive constitu-
tional roles under the separation of powers doctrine (supra note 91 at 18). He associates
the negative aspect with a formalistic view of the doctrine, which prevents one branch
from interfering with the specific powers of another. On the one hand institutional divi-
sion is a brake upon attempts to concentrate political power, at the same time that it
keeps any one branch from meddling with or undermining another. The positive aspect
of the doctrine, on the other hand, corresponds to a functional view of branch powers,
where the branches can have overlapping authority and so can more directly challenge
(and control) one another. Different interpretations of the separation of powers doctrine
often favour one of these views, with implications for the relative role and powers of the
courts. The negative and positive aspects of the judicial role tend to coexist, however,


Once brought within Lockes constitutional model, judicial power is
permanently counterpoised against that of the executive. From this posi-
tion, it can hold the executive legally accountable even for prerogative
acts.138 Of course, the executive might extraordinarily and temporarily act
outside of the rule of law or refuse to answer to legal process, in the face of
an emergency threatening the existence of the political society.139 Al-
though unusual circumstances might necessitate such actions, they re-
main subject to political condemnation or indemnification by the legisla-
ture, as well as to legal consequences in the courts.140 Therefore, the ex-
ecutive can no longer reject or undermine judicial oversight any more
than that of the legislature. To do so will break the constitution, violate
the public good, and threaten war with the people. Judicial power thus
makes it more difficult for the executive to loosen himself from the consti-
tutions overall structural constraints. The judiciarys trust to protect the
rule of law ensures more checks and warning signs about the dangerous
concentration or institutional unaccountability of executive powera
danger that becomes even greater when the executive wields the preroga-
tive.141 That trust also justifies its opposition, at times, to a virtuous ex-

but in different degrees. See also Rebecca L Brown, Separated Powers and Ordered
Liberty (1991) 139 U Pa L Rev 1513 at 1533, n 81 (citing Gwyn, supra note 108 at 127-

138 See e.g. Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service (1984), [1985] AC
374, 3 All ER 935 (HL) (commonly known as the GCHQ case). The House of Lords de-
clared for the first time that the Crowns prerogative powers are subject to judicial re-
view, when the subject matter of its exercise is justiciable (thereby recognizing a con-
tinuing need for judicial deference in such matters).

139 See Ex parte Merryman, 9 Am Law Reg 524, 17 F Cas 144 (Md Cir Ct 1861) (President

Lincoln refused to honour a writ of habeas corpus).

140 See e.g. Burmah Oil v Lord Advocate (1964),[1965] AC 75,[1964] 2 All ER 348 (HL).The
House of Lords found that the Crown had a prerogative power to confiscate and destroy
the private property of British subjects without prior legal process, in order to prevent it
from imminently falling into enemy hands in a combat zone. However, the Crowns ex-
ceptional prerogative came with a common law duty to provide fair financial compensa-
tion to the owner. For another British example, see Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensa-
tion Commission (1968), [1969] 2 AC 147, 2 WLR 163 (HL) (the House of Lords resisted
Parliaments attempts to oust the judicial review of executive administrative decisions).
141 The importance of judicial power to constitutional checks and balances is well illus-
trated by President Roosevelts ignominious Court-packing plan of 1937, which was a
response to the Supreme Court of the United States controversial and unpopular in-
validation of New Deal legislation. The President submitted a plan to Congress that
would have allowed him to appoint several new justices. The enlargement of the Court
would have ensured a majority friendly to the Administrations economic policies. De-
spite Roosevelts great popularity, and an overwhelming majority of his own Democratic
party in the House of Representatives and the Senate, public and congressional reac-
tion to perceived executive manipulation of the judiciary was hostile. For a variety of
reasons, in West Coast Hotel v Parrish the Supreme Court signalled a new, friendlier


ecutive with good intentions. In the midst of the Korean War, for example,
US President Truman unilaterally ordered the seizure of the steel mills,
without any statutory authorization, in order to prevent strikes that
might have crippled the American war effort. The Supreme Court de-
clared the order unlawful in Youngstown Sheet,142 and President Truman
complied with the decision. In his concurring opinion, Justice Jackson
summed up the perils of executive emergency powers and the importance
of legislative and judicial checks to the preservation of liberty. His senti-
ments traced a lineage back to the constitutional conflicts that had in-
spired Locke, and his decision instantiated Lockes political philosophy to
reject the presidents sweeping prerogative claims. Citing to Englands
Chief Justice Coke and his defiance of the king, Justice Jackson wrote:

The executive action we have here originates in the individual will of
the President and represents an exercise of authority without law.
No one, perhaps not even the President, knows the limits of the
power he may seek to exert in this instance, and the parties affected
cannot learn the limit of their rights. We do not know today what
powers over labor or property would be claimed to flow from Gov-
ernment possession if we should legalize it, what rights to compen-
sation would be claimed or recognized, or on what contingency it
would end. With all its defects, delays and inconveniences, men have
discovered no technique for long preserving free government except
that the Executive be under the law, and that the law be made by
parliamentary deliberations.
Such institutions may be destined to pass away. But it is the duty of
the Court to be last, not first, to give them up.143

Over the past decade, there has been a renewed interest in Lockes
concept of prerogative and whether or not a liberal constitutional order
can adequately constrain exceptional executive decisions, taken for the
security of the state in times of emergency. Some would answer that such
prerogativea worrisome but necessary executive powerultimately

approach to government interventions in the economy, diffusing the controversy (300
US 379 (1937)). The presidents plan then died quietly in Congress.

142 Supra note 39.
143 Ibid at 655. Justice Jackson added:

We follow the judicial tradition instituted on a memorable Sunday in 1612
when King James took offense at the independence of his judges and, in rage,
declared: Then I am to be under the lawwhich it is treason to affirm. Chief
Justice Coke replied to his King: Thus, wrote Bracton, The King ought not to
be under any man, but he is under God and the Law. 12 Coke 65 (as to its
verity, 18 Eng Hist Rev 664-675); 1 Campbell, Lives of the Chief Justices
(1849), 272 (ibid).


cannot be restrained by the constitutional order. As an extralegal power,
exercise of the prerogative can only be challenged in turn by another ex-
tralegal power. That opposite force is the people, exercising their right to
resist tyranny and reconstitute political society. As liberals counter-argue,
this security-focused argument presents risks to democratic institutions,
the rule of law, and individual rights. It also leaves little constitutional
correction to executive abuses, other than a mass swell of popular opposi-
tion. Not only is effective opposition unlikely to come except in the most
extreme situations of executive maladministration, but it also might
prove to be too little, too late. The security-focused argument not only
downplays Lockes twin commitment to security and rights, but it also in-
troduces a potentially serious constitutional instability, which he carefully
seeks to avoid.

This article has clearly supported the liberal position. It has rejected
more security-focused arguments as dangerous to liberty and contrary to
the Lockean constitution, which so deeply influences the legal and politi-
cal systems of the common law countries. In that constitutional model,
which divides and balances executive, legislative, as well as judicial power
for the public good, the executive can never act completely outside of any
institutional restraints. To do so risks the concentration of all political
power in executive hands, something that Locke does not allow. Further-
more, because every branch of government hold its power in trust, the leg-
islature and judiciary each have republican mandates to act as institu-
tional intermediaries between the popular sovereign and the executive.
Any attempt by the executive branch to undermine the other two and
avoid their oversight is therefore an attack on the people themselves.
Therefore, notwithstanding urgency and his own claims to a popular

mandate, the executive cannot dispense with Lockes constitutional struc-
ture. Although extraordinary circumstances might compel the executive
to act without legal authority or even contra legem, they do not excuse his
actions from subsequent political or legal oversight and possible sanc-
tions. To these, he must ultimately submit. Locke so closely links the pub-
lic good with the constitution that executive defiance of the other two
branches violates his own trust. This is so, even where that trust permits
swift, decisive action to preserve the civil society. Locke grants the execu-
tive an exceptional emergency discretion, but only so long as it remains
accountable within the peoples constitution.

The Lockean constitution, in this way, does not deny a mighty pre-
rogative. The executives obligations to the public good mean that, in ex-
treme and unforeseen political situations, he might indeed have to break
the law in order to save itjust as Lincoln did. However, Locke denies his
executive the sole, ultimate power to judge the wisdom and propriety of
his own actionsa principle that underlies the separation of powers doc-
trine. The executive may of course struggle and contest with the legisla-


ture and the courts, either over his actions or formal branch powers under
particular constitutional arrangements. He may also demand and expect
fair deference to his decisions under pressure. What the executive cannot
do, however, is arrogate his office above the coordinate branches, so as to
refuse to consult, inform, or finally submit to them. The executives pre-
rogative, while great, is after all just a general discretionary power. Ex-
ecutive discretion of all forms, and the security-rights tension it is to re-
solve, is ever-present in Lockes constitutional design. As such, the pre-
rogative is no more exempt from some kind of constitutional control, than
the narrower executive power to enforce the laws. Locke creates a dy-
namic institutional give-and-take over what the public good requires in all
circumstances, from mundane matters of public administration to ex-
traordinary affairs of state. His constitution bends but never breaks, even
in great crises. On the other hand, executive hubris invites resistance: if
not by the legislature or courts in the first instance, than ultimately by
the popular sovereign.
Accordingly, the security-rights contradiction, which so clearly comes
to the fore in emergencies, is not a flaw in Lockes constitution. Rather,
Locke harnesses it as a powerful and vitalizing force for rational, consen-
sual, and lasting politics. Moreover, for Locke, those politics can only exist
within his constitution. He intentionally sets up the conditions for, and
encourages, institutional conflict and argument over the public good, as
well as its relationship to specific exercises of prerogative and political
power generally. His constitutional model is an institutional prophylactic
to the abuse of political power of all sorts, and works precisely because it
is grounded on a normatively contestable principle of the public good that
rejects any official claims to be the absolute judge of its requirements. Ar-
guments about the right balance between rights and securityif indeed,
it is even conceptually appropriate to speak of balance between Lockes
inseparable political imperativesfundamentally depend upon contingen-
cies and doubts. While the wisest legislature can never statutorily provide
for all exigencies with complete certainty, neither can the most virtuous
executive be utterly sure that he does not fail the people in a time of trial.
The judiciary, of course, must ensure that political power respects basic
liberties through the rule of law. However, courts too must be mindful of
their own institutional limitations. At the centre of Lockes constitution,
the security-rights contradiction is crucial for the same reason that it ex-
cites worries in liberal and illiberal commentators alike; it is a politics of
doubt. In times of emergency, it is just that doubtabout the need for de-
cision, about the integrity of liberty, about democratic accountability
that allows prerogative power but keeps it within the constitution. At the
same time, such doubt encourages reflection, vigilance, and republican
virtue among the citizenry.


Lockes constitution of both structure and doubt will avoid most often
but not always prevent very bad, or even catastrophic, policy decisions. It
is a remarkably strong fence against political apathy, corruption, and
anti-democratic forces, but cannot forever ensure virtue against any of
them. Thus, it does not entirely foreclose Lockes worst fears: the slow de-
cline into autocracy or the sudden rise of an authoritarian ruler convinced
of his infallibility. The Lockean constitution effectively guards against
such political decay but, in the end, does not always pretend to be able to
prevent the strongmans magical seduction of the people, politics of fear,
or rule by the gun. However, while a conceited executive might attempt
and, God forbid, succeed in slipping his constitutional chains, Locke de-
nies any political legitimacy to such manifestations of power. Not even the
combined, supine acquiescence of a weak, frightened, or fawning legisla-
ture, judiciary, or public can legitimize such a distorted political state.
What Lockes constitution does, in such a case, is deny the executive any
legitimacy or pretence of a right to rule. Even if the constitution tragically
fails, with its last gasp it decries the new securitized state of order for
what it really isa slavish trade of liberty for tyranny.