Dorian Kantor

PhD Candidate

Politics as Law: The Juridification of Executive Politics After Watergate

“Presidential power is the power to persuade,” wrote Neustadt in his influential 1960 book, Presidential Power. Since the penning of that famous phrase, presidency scholars have demonstrated that “weak is [not always] the word with which to start” when examining the presidency. In fact, presidents can flex their institutional muscles and exercise unilateral authority in a wide range of policy areas (cf. Howell).

In the vein of the executive unilateralism literature, I contend that presidents can utilise what I call a “legal strategy” and employ their legal resources to enhance executive power and/or to affect policy change by generously interpreting, interpreting away, and re-interpret existing laws and constitutional strictures in order to avoid the transaction costs associated with the inter-branch institutional process. The Bush administration’s post-9/11 behaviour is a case in point. This project’s guiding question is: why do we see a change in the nature of presidential power after 9/11 (from law executor to interpreter)?

Based on historical institutionalism, I endeavour to demonstrate that Democratic presidential administrations since Watergate have utilised legal arguments from the Office of Legal Counsel and laid the basis for Bush 43’s use of executive power. While the Bush administration clearly moved beyond precedent, its institutional behaviour was not an aberration but rather a continuation of the practice of previous post-Watergate presidencies, including Democratic ones.

Case studies:

I utilize three case studies from three different national security contexts to demonstrate continuity across post-Watergate administrations: the Iran Crisis during Carter’s term in office, Kosovo and Bosnia under Clinton, and the War on Terror under Obama. My fourth case study comprises pre-Watergate legal memoranda to demonstrate that Watergate was a critical juncture in the development of American political institutions and that is precipitated the juridification of interbranch politics.


I employ qualitative research methods such as case studies, textual analysis, and interviews to test my hypotheses. I carry out an in-depth content analysis (using Maxqda) of the relevant OLC memoranda related to crises (Iran crisis, Bosnia, Kosovo, GWOT) to highlight continuities and differences between Bush administration and post-Watergate democratic administrations. I use the available pre-Watergate OLC memos to demonstrate the impact of the critical juncture on the Executive branch’s institutional behaviour.  

I examine a number of explanatory factors that facilitate the reliance on a legal strategy to achieve desired policy goals and result in the accretion of constitutional and statutory interpretive authority in the executive branch at the expense of the coordinate branches: the juridification of (inter-branch) politics, the polarisation of Congress, external events, political agency, and judicial under-enforcement of constitutional principles.

My work makes an important contribution to the literature on presidential power by identifying another form of executive unilateralism (juridified executive unilateralism) and by demonstrating Democratic administrations’ use thereof. Furthermore, this study presents indicators that Carter’s and Clinton’s use of the legal strategy helped lay the foundation of a much more expansive project that was undertaken in the Bush OLC and continued under Obama.

Dissertation advisers: Lora Anne Viola (Freie Universität Berlin), Amanda Hollis-Brusky (Pomona College), Margit Mayer (Freie Universität Berlin), James Pfiffner (George Mason University)


Ph.D. in Political Science (exp. late 2014)

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany - Graduate School of North American Studies

Visiting Research Scholar: George Mason University - School of Public Policy

Visiting Graduate Student: Johns Hopkins University

M.A. in American Studies (Political Science & Constitutional Law) (2009)

Heidelberg University, Germany - Heidelberg Center for American Studies

M.A. in English (Literature, Linguistics, and TEFL) (2008)

Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest - School of English and American Studies

B.A. and M.A. in American Studies (Political Science, Law, History) (2008)

Trinity College, Hartford, CT

Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest, Hungary


Teaching and Research Interests

U.S. Presidency & Executive Politics, Juridification of Politics, Supreme Court and Judicial Politics, Constitutional Theory


Selected Presentations, Papers, Publications

Guest Lecture, “Presidential Leadership or Presidential Unilateralism?: The Legislative, Administrative, and Legal Strategies,” Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Heidelberg University, December 17, 2012 

Discussion Panel Member “Presidential Election 2012,” John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, November 6, 2012

Conference Paper, “Politics as Law: The Juridification of Executive Politics,” Fourth International Summer Academy Democratic Cultures, Past and Present: Perspectives from Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C, USA, May 4-13, 2012

Conference Paper, “Politics as Law: Juridified Executive Unilateralism and the Conservative Legal Movement,” Spring Academy Graduate Conference of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, Heidelberg, Germany, March 26-30, 2012

Guest Lecture, “The Failure of the First Constitution of the United States: Antifederalist Political Philosophy and the Lack of Executive Power,” Department of American Studies, School of English and American Studies, Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest, Hungary, March 9, 2012 

Research Colloquium Presentation, “Juridification of Politics – Politicisation of the Law: Perspectives on the Growth of Executive Power in U.S.,” Department of Political Science, John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, January 10, 2012

Guest lecture, “The Unitary Executive Theory at Work: The Bush Administration’s Assertions of Executive Power after 9/11," Faculty of Philosophy, Modern Languages, and Humanities, University of São Paulo, Brazil, April 5, 2011

Guest lecture, Federalism and the Development of Liberal Democracy in the United States,”Department of American Studies, School of English and American Studies, Eötvös Loránd University of Budapest, Hungary, March 7, 2011

Essay, “Fundamental Rights and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Right of Privacy and Judicial Decision-Making,” published in Eötvös Collegium Research Publications, Budapest, Hungary, 2009

Op-Ed piece, “Hungarians Love Their Hatred,” The Budapest Times, July 14, 2008

Conference paper, “Clashing Cultural Values and the Jurisprudence of Minority Rights in Canada and the United States: the Development of Same-Sex Marriage,” Fifth International Tartu Conference on Canadian Studies, Tartu, Estonia, 2007


Selected Awards, Grants, Fellowships 

Visiting Scholar – American Political Science Association, Centennial Center for Political Science and Public Affairs, Washington, D.C., April-September, 2012

Presidency Research Group Fellow – American Political Science Association, Washington, D.C., April – September 2012 

Doctoral Student Travel Grant – Awarded by the Bavarian American Academy, 2012

Doctoral Grant – Awarded by Freie Universität Berlin, 2012-2013

Doctoral Grant – Awarded by DFG (German Research Foundation), 2011 - 2012

Doctoral Grant– Awarded by DFG (German Research Foundation),2010 - 2011

Tuition Fee Award for M.A. in American Studies – Awarded by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, 2008 - 2009

John F. Kennedy Institute Research Grant – Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, Aug. 2008

Graduate Student Travel Grant – Awarded by Eötvö Loránd University, 2008

“Raether Library” Research Grant – Awarded by Kellner Foundation and Trinity College, Hartford, CT, Jan./Feb. 2008


Teaching Appointments 

Adjunct Lecturer: Freie Universität Berlin, JFK Institute: Department of Political Science

Fall 2012     

JFKI_S_3501_12W “The American Presidency: Power and Politics”(advanced undergraduate seminar)

Adjunct Lecturer: Eötvös Loránd University, School of English and American Studies

Spring 2008

ANN – 322.32 “Separation of Church and State in the U.S.” graduate seminar co-taught with Prof. Karoly Pinter (School of English and American Studies – Eötvös Collegium)

BBN_ANG-204/2  “Communications and Politics,” advanced undergraduate seminar (School of English and American Studies)                                                           

BBN_ANG-106 “Language Practice for English Majors,” undergraduate seminar (Department of English Language Pedagogy)

Fall 2007   

BBN_ANG-102    “Language Practice for English Majors 1,” undergraduate seminar,  (Department of English Language Pedagogy)


Professional Experience 

Adjunct Lecturer at Freie Universität Berlin, John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies, Department of Political Science, Berlin, Germany, Fall Semester 2012

Freelance Translator and Interpreter (Eng-Hun, Hun-Eng, Ger-Eng), 2004-present

Soft Skills and Language Trainer, Com-Unic GmbH, Heidelberg, Germany, 2009-2010

Business English Teacher, GmbH, Heielberg, Germany, 2008-2010

English Teacher,F+U Academy of Languages, Heidelberg, Germany, 2008-2010

Adjunct Lecturer at Eötvö Lorànd University, School of English and American Studies, Budapest, Hungary, 2007-2008

English Teacher, Juventus Language School, Budapest, Hungary, 2007-2008

Clerical Assistant,Department of English at Trinity College, Hartford, CT, 2006-2007



English, Hungarian – native/bilingual-bicultural

German – fluent

Portuguese – basic



Lora Anne Viola, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Political Science

Department of Political Science
John F. Kennedy Institute
Freie Universität Berlin
Lansstraße 7-9, 14195 Berlin
Phone: +49 30 838-52852


Amanda Hollis-Brusky, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Political Science

Politics Department
Pomona College
425 N. College Ave.
Claremont, CA  91711
Phone: +1 909-607-8296

James Pfiffner, Ph.D.
University Professor

Ph.D. Program Director
School of Public Policy
George Mason University
3351 Fairfax Dr., MS 3B1
Arlington, Virginia 22201
Phone: +1 703-993-1417

Dr. Martin Thunert
Professor of Political Science

Heidelberg Center for American Studies
Heidelberg University
Haupstaße 120
69117 Heidelberg
Phone: +49 6221 54 3877

Adrienne Fulco, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Legal and Policy Studies

Director, Public Policy and Law Program
Trinity College
300 Summit St.
Hartford, CT 06106
Phone: +1 860-297-2435

Dahlem Research School
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft