Skip to content

Spring 2024 Reading Group

Oversight and Separation of Powers

Prerequisite: None

Exam Type: No Exam

The United States Congress wields investigatory powers to review, monitor, and supervise the executive branch’s implementation of public policy. This “oversight” authority takes many forms—committee hearings, investigations, subpoenas, requests for information, and reports—and has been exercised during several high-profile government controversies from the Teapot Dome Scandal to Watergate to January 6th.

Congress’s oversight authority is considered essential to Congress’s legislative powers under Article I and the separation of powers more broadly. Yet, scholars and government officials alike have observed that the executive branch has developed an expansive view of presidential power and executive privilege; one that stymies congressional requests for information and minimizes Congress’s oversight power as secondary to the executive’s ability to perform its constitutional responsibilities. Courts, wary of entering the political thicket, are forced to referee the branches’ competing views on their spheres of authority.

This reading group explores oversight as an interstitial ingredient in our system of separation of powers, and specifically examines the normative and positive dimensions of each branch’s role in the oversight process. Students will hear from former congressional staffers and executive branch officials with experience navigating oversight disputes and careers in this space.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: February 1, February 22, February 29, March 21, April 4, April 18.