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Political LegitimacyNOMOS LXI$
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Jack Knight and Melissa Schwartzberg

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781479888696

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479888696.001.0001

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Official Intentions and Political Legitimacy

Official Intentions and Political Legitimacy

The Case of the Travel Ban

(p.201) 7 Official Intentions and Political Legitimacy
Political Legitimacy

Micah Schwartzman

NYU Press

The case of President Trump’s travel ban raises the question of whether the intentions of public officials matter in determining the legitimacy of their actions. In recent years, philosophers and legal scholars have argued that intentions are never directly relevant to the moral permissibility of actions. This permissibility objection can be applied to theories of political legitimacy that make intentions relevant in specifying moral conditions for the exercise of political power. After surveying various ways in which intentions might figure into theories of legitimacy, I present the permissibility objection and then argue that it cannot be sustained in reflective equilibrium. Using examples of discretionary discrimination, including the travel ban, I argue that intentions are relevant to determining the legitimacy of official conduct. I then defend a doctrine of moral taint, which holds that skepticism about the actions of public officials is appropriate when they have previously taken similar actions on the basis of wrongful intentions.

Keywords:   political legitimacy, intention, permissibility, travel ban

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