Law and History Review


Understanding Curtiss-Wright

Edward A. Purcell Jr. 

The most striking feature of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp. is its language asserting an independent and exclusive executive foreign affairs power. As “the sole organ of the federal government in the field of foreign relations,” the Court declared, the executive holds “very delicate, plenary and exclusive power” that “does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress.” From the day the case was decided, it has stood as a preeminent authority for those who would magnify the constitutional role of the president by proclaiming the independent and unchecked nature of the executive's foreign affairs power.


Edward A. Purcell, Jr., is Joseph Solomon Distinguished Professor at New York Law School <>.


  He thanks Richard B. Bernstein, Steven J. Ellmann, Daniel R. Ernst, Barry Friedman, Richard D. Friedman, Helen Hershkoff, Andrew L. Kaufman, Ann Kornhauser, Richard A. Matasar, William E. Nelson, Robert Post, Mark Tushnet, Melvin I. Urofsky, Rachel Vorspan, the members of the New York University Law School Legal History Colloquium, his colleagues in the New York Law School Faculty Colloquium, and four anonymous reviewers for this journal for their many helpful comments and suggestions. He also thanks Matthew Hofstedt of the Collection of the Supreme Court, Office of the Curator, and Michael McCarthy of New York Law School for their help in obtaining source material, and New York Law School students Melissa Baldwin, Alex Barrett, Andrew Finan, Daniel Luisi, Sophie Reiter, and John B. Weinstein for their research assistance.