Article one, section 9 of the US constitution, limiting the power of congress, states

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

Similarly, section 10 clause 1 (the contracts clause) denies state governments from the same. However, I can't find anything in the constitution that limits the president from unilaterally declaring someone attainted.

Does the president have the ability to declare someone attainted, or is he considered to be limited same as congress in this regard?

2 Answers 2


No, the President cannot. There is nothing in the President's enumerated powers that would give him the right to sentence a U.S. citizen to anything. If the president were to attempt to use an executive order as a bill of attainder, it would be struck down in court, as it violates the right to a fair trial, just like a bill of attainder passed by Congress.

  • Thanks. I had figured as such, but not being American myself I felt it better to ask instead of assume. However, is this encoded anywhere whether in the written law or in case law? Or is there still a need for such before there is an explicit prevention of presidential attainder? Aug 27, 2017 at 2:01
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    I am not sure, but as far as I know it is not explicitly forbidden, and would require a trial.
    – Braydon
    Aug 27, 2017 at 3:13
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    I'm not clear what the difference is between an attainder and national security counsel kill authorizations. wikipedia.
    – user9389
    Aug 27, 2017 at 3:54
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    @ChrisCharabaruk No.
    – user9389
    Aug 27, 2017 at 5:37
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    @not store bought dirt: The latter are military acts (rhw President being Commander in Chief) against people who are actively engaged in making war against the US. They're ethically no different than e.g. a battlefield sniper targeting a high-ranking officer.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 27, 2017 at 17:53

The concept of a Bill of Attainder is not for the President to "declare someone attained", but rather, for the Executive Branch to punish without a crime being charged or committed by the citizen or proven in a Court of competent Jurisdiction (Judicial Branch), that is, adherence to the doctrine of Separation of Powers.

Bills of Attainder can take several forms. One common example form is an administrative (Executive Branch; state or federal) regulation that proffers an adhesion contract to an individual which provides for penalty (potentially imprisonment without the citizen having been charged with or convicted of a crime) for either refusing to accept or consider the contract, or purportedly violating the adhesion contract.

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