Exiting Congressional-Executive Agreements

by Curtis A. Bradley

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Abstract

Commentators have argued that, even if the president has the unilateral authority to terminate Article II treaties concluded with the Senate’s advice and consent, the president lacks the unilateral authority to terminate “congressional-executive agreements” concluded with majority congressional approval, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This Article challenges that claim. If one accepts a presidential authority to terminate Article II treaties, this Article contends, there is no persuasive reason to conclude differently with respect to congressional-executive agreements. Congressional-executive agreements have become largely interchangeable with Article II treaties as a matter of domestic law and practice. For example, either instrument can be used to address matters relating to international commerce and trade. Moreover, while presidents cannot unilaterally terminate statutes, congressional-executive agreements are not mere statutes. They are, like Article II treaties, binding international instruments that can be concluded by the United States only through presidential action. These agreements also typically contain withdrawal clauses similar to those contained in Article II treaties, which presidents have long invoked unilaterally, and Congress has never indicated that presidents have less withdrawal authority for such agreements. Indeed, in its trade legislation, Congress appears to have accepted that presidents may invoke such clauses unilaterally.

Exiting Congressional-Executive Agreements

by Curtis A. Bradley

Click here for a PDF file of this article

Abstract

Commentators have argued that, even if the president has the unilateral authority to terminate Article II treaties concluded with the Senate’s advice and consent, the president lacks the unilateral authority to terminate “congressional-executive agreements” concluded with majority congressional approval, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This Article challenges that claim. If one accepts a presidential authority to terminate Article II treaties, this Article contends, there is no persuasive reason to conclude differently with respect to congressional-executive agreements. Congressional-executive agreements have become largely interchangeable with Article II treaties as a matter of domestic law and practice. For example, either instrument can be used to address matters relating to international commerce and trade. Moreover, while presidents cannot unilaterally terminate statutes, congressional-executive agreements are not mere statutes. They are, like Article II treaties, binding international instruments that can be concluded by the United States only through presidential action. These agreements also typically contain withdrawal clauses similar to those contained in Article II treaties, which presidents have long invoked unilaterally, and Congress has never indicated that presidents have less withdrawal authority for such agreements. Indeed, in its trade legislation, Congress appears to have accepted that presidents may invoke such clauses unilaterally.