Video from Professor Edelson Appearance on C-SPAN

Emergency Presidential Powers

American University Chris Edelson talks about his book his new book, Emergency Presidential Power. In the book he examines how U.S. presidents have tested and pushed the limits of their emergency powers.

View it online on C-SPAN’s website.

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Review from Kirkus Praises New Emergency Presidential Power Book

Now out in print and available shortly in local bookstores and online at AmazonKirkus adds its praise for Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror. From the review:

Unable to “find a suitable book to use for a new class on emergency presidential power and the war on terror,” Edelson  wrote this one as a primer. The currently debated issues informing the author’s arguments include whether the president can order the deaths of American citizens on his own authority and whether doctrines of state secrecy can be employed to block legal suits completely rather than justify merely withholding evidence, warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention. Though the evolution has varied, Edelson traces the roots of each issue to the doctrine of executive power espoused by Dick Cheney during the George W. Bush administration, which had its inception under the administration of Richard Nixon after his excesses were reined in. The author provides two valuable contributions, which both preface recent developments and provide context from original historical sources. The scope of presidential power has been a subject of contention throughout the history of the country, and Edelson provides documentation from the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers, and the administrations of George Washington and John Adams. The author examines Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus at the beginning of the Civil War as well as subsequent cases on the power of military tribunals. The author also looks at cases from the Spanish-American War, the adoption of the Espionage and Sedition acts in 1917, Franklin Roosevelt’s treatment of German saboteurs, and the internment of Japanese-Americans during and after World War II. Edelson provides sources that document both sides of these cases, relates them to the founding documents and discussions, and lays down a foundation from which the current debate about the powers of the presidency can be more clearly understood.

This collection of documents and arguments makes a timely companion to current, ongoing political discussions.


Forthcoming Book Featured on American University Website

From the American University website:

The framers of the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the job of declaring war, but also gave the president the power to take emergency action independent of Congress if the country was suddenly attacked.

While intended to provide the Commander in Chief a way to swiftly respond to security threats, a new book by Chris Edelson, assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs, shows through historic records that U.S. presidents have tested, pushed, and increasingly overstepped the limits of their emergency powers, particularly in the post-9/11 era.

Edelson had the idea for the book, published this month by the University of Wisconsin Press, when he created his new class “The Constitution, National Security and the War on Terror,” and discovered no textbook existed on the topic. The resulting work, Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror, draws from excerpts of the Constitution, Supreme Court opinions, Department of Justice memos, and other primary documents.

Edelson’s research has been an important contribution to the national dialogue on presidential power, with interviews and opinion pieces recently published in the Los Angeles Times and other notable news media outlets.

An Interest Sparked 

Edelson says the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks sparked his interest in wartime use of presidential power.

“Living in New York City, I was personally affected by what happened that day, and concerned about how the government would respond,” says Edelson, who practiced law in New York City and Washington, D.C., and served as state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign. “Like many people, I was worried about the safety of our country.”

That concern eventually turned to skepticism, as Edelson saw the government invoke national security in questionable ways: waterboarding of terrorist suspects, torture at Guantánamo Bay, and the National Security Administration’s (NSA) mass phone and electronic surveillance. More recently, Edelson says President Obama’s military strikes against Libya and threats of force in Syria creep outside the Commander in Chief’s duties to protect the country.

Lincoln and Truman Did It

But Edelson says there is nothing new about pushing the limits of executive power. Abraham Lincoln, for example, suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, but ultimately secured Congressional authorization to do so.

President Harry S. Truman ordered the Secretary of Commerce to seize and operate the country’s steel mills to produce weapons during the Korean War—a move the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.

War on Terror Changed Everything

Congress in the post-9/11 era isn’t pushing back on executive power as much as it should, says Edelson, and presidents aren’t necessarily seeking approval from Congress when they decide to act. The War on Terror further complicates this as it has no clear end and no clear target, making it harder to define the parameters of the president’s emergency powers.

“After 9/11, Americans became afraid and have looked to the president to defend the nation,” Edelson says. “In this regard, a lot of people think it is actually dangerous to set limits on the president’s power.”

In his next book, Grand Illusion: Presidential Power and the Rule of Law under President Obama, Edelson will probe President Obama’s use of power.


Lincoln’s comments from 1861 relevant to today’s government shutdown

Check out this latest post by Prof. Edelson on the National Constitution Center’s blog re: Abraham Lincoln’s message to Congress in 1861 about accepting election outcomes is still relevant today.


Pre-Order Now: Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror

You can pre-order your copy now of Chris Edelson’s upcoming book – Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror – due out in Nov 2013.  With Forward by Louis Fisher.  Available for pre-order now on Amazon.

From the book jacket…

Can a U.S. president decide to hold suspected terrorists indefinitely without charges or secretly monitor telephone conversations and e-mails without a warrant in the interest of national security? Was the George W. Bush administration justified in authorizing waterboarding? Was President Obama justified in ordering the killing, without trial or hearing, of a U.S. citizen suspected of terrorist activity? Defining the scope and limits of emergency presidential power might seem easy—just turn to Article II of the Constitution. But as Chris Edelson shows, the reality is complicated. In times of crisis, presidents have frequently staked out claims to broad national security power. Ultimately it is up to the Congress, the courts, and the people to decide whether presidents are acting appropriately or have gone too far.

Drawing on excerpts from the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court opinions, Department of Justice memos, and other primary documents, Edelson weighs the various arguments that presidents have used to justify the expansive use of executive power in times of crisis. Emergency Presidential Power uses the historical record to evaluate and analyze presidential actions before and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The choices of the twenty-first century, Edelson concludes, have pushed the boundaries of emergency presidential power in ways that may provide dangerous precedents for current and future commanders-in-chief.

Available for pre-order now.


LA Times discussion of Obama’s speech last night featuring Edelson commentary

Read it here or below.

Less than two weeks ago, the Obama administration appeared determined to take military action against Syria. A familiar pattern seemed to be playing out. Since World War II, presidents have claimed unilateral power to use military force without authorization from Congress. Obama had already followed this precedent himself when he ordered military action in Libya in 2011 without seeking approval from Congress.

Despite the fact that unilateral presidential military action can only be justified under the Constitution when the president is responding to an attack or imminent attack against the United States, presidential practice has stubbornly asserted itself as precedent — in part because Congress has consistently failed to check presidential authority.

This time, surprisingly, it was different. In the speech Obama gave Tuesday, he acknowledged that, given the fact that the United States faced and faces no imminent threat from Syria, the better course was for him to go to Congress. Congress deserves credit for asserting itself — more than 100 legislators signed on to letters insisting that the president not act alone, creating mounting pressure on Obama to rethink his approach. The president also deserves credit for recognizing that going to Congress was the right thing to do.

The speech showed why Obama was right to go to Congress — as he emphasized, diplomatic efforts have begun to show promise. When he announced his decision to seek legislative approval, critics argued that he was undermining the power of the presidency. John Yoo, a Department of Justice lawyer in the George W. Bush administration who has championed broad, essentially unchecked, presidential power, insisted that only the president could take the quick, decisive military action required. As Obama observed Tuesday, though, speedy action was not what was needed. Sometimes, it is better not to act. The benefit, in this case, was that diplomacy has been given a chance to work. If nothing else, the chain of events over the last 10 days should put to rest the argument that presidents are best positioned to make decisions about the use of military force because they have the ability to act quickly.

As Congress has begun to consider a use-of-force resolution authorizing military action in Syria, some have asked what Obama would do if lawmakers said no. He has said — and he said again Tuesday night — that he believes he has the authority to act alone (though he is wrong about this, in my view). However, Obama said that he has asked Congress to postpone voting on the pending legislation. This is a wise move that ought to divert attention from the question of what he might do if Congress votes no. As the president suggested, putting off voting in Congress gives more time for diplomatic efforts to play out. It also provides additional evidence that those like Yoo who insist on the value of speedy presidential action in the context of war are wrong. Outside of the emergency context, unilateral presidential military action is neither wise nor constitutional. Sometimes, immediate military action isn’t the right choice.

Chris Edelson is an assistant professor of government in American University’s School of Public Affairs, where he teaches classes on the Constitution and presidential power. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror.”


Professor Edelson on Saudi TY re: Syria

Last week, Saudi TV interviewed Professor Edelson re: Obama and Syria.  It can be viewed here on YouTube.