Chris Edelson to be on C-SPAN on Thurs, Jan 2nd

Professor Chris Edelson will be LIVE on C-SPAN on Thursday morning, Jan 2 from 8:30-9:15am talking about his book, Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror, on the show Washington Journal.  Listeners are invited to  call in to ask questions or make comments on the Democrat/Republican/Independent phone lines – please call in if you have a question you could ask  about the book or want to offer something relevant in the news recently he could comment on as it relates to the book.


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.


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.

 


American Constitution Society New Blog Post on Obama and Syria

Check out a new blog post today about Obama, Syria and the rule of law.


LA Times’ Paul Whitefield: American University professor Chris Edelson put it so well

Thanks Paul Whitefield at LA Times for recommending Chris Edelson’s Op-Ed on Syria.  To read Paul’s fill piece visit here – or see excerpt below:

OK, John Kerry, you convinced me: Let’s go bomb Syria! Just kidding.

Like many Americans, I have serious reservations about this country getting involved in that country’s nasty civil war.

Still, the sight of the secretary of State addressing senators about the Syrian crisis and taking questions Tuesday was, well, a sight for sore eyes. It’s about time that Congress took seriously the power invested in it by the Constitution to take this nation to war.

As American University professor Chris Edelson put it so well in his Aug. 30 op-ed in The Times,“Obama and the power to go to war”:

The president needs congressional authorization for a military attack that is not related to an actual or imminent threat to the United States. What is happening in Syria is an ongoing atrocity. Tens of thousands of people have been killed — some, it appears, by the Bashar Assad government’s use of chemical weapons. This is a moral outrage. But it is not a direct threat to the United States, and the Obama administration does not suggest otherwise.

And that sums it up pretty neatly. Americans don’t care for Assad; they certainly don’t accept the use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians. But they also don’t see how this poses a direct threat to our security. And after Iraq, and Afghanistan (and let’s not forget Somalia, and the Balkans, and heck, even Lebanon in the 1980s), well, let’s just say that being the world’s policeman is getting old.


latimes.com Op-ed Aug 30: Obama and the power to go to war

The Constitution is clear: The president must make his case to Congress.

By Chris Edelson

August 30, 2013

With the Obama administration planning what it describes as limited military strikes to punish Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, public discussion over the legality of U.S. action has addressed mainly questions of international law. Commentators debate whether the United States may take action without authorization from the U.N. Security Council. That is an important question. But debate within the United States typically ignores a separate, more fundamental question: Does the Constitution authorize President Obama to take military action against Syria without congressional approval?

When he was running for president in 2007, Obama, a former constitutional law professor, told reporter Charlie Savage that “the president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” That was an accurate description of U.S. law.

The drafters of the Constitution assigned Congress the power to declare war. Records from the constitutional convention in Philadelphia show the framers recognized that, in an emergency, the president could act unilaterally to repel a sudden attack against the United States. This was a consensus view. Even Alexander Hamilton, who had the broadest view of executive power, acknowledged that under the Constitution, “it is the peculiar and exclusive province of Congress, when the nation is at peace, to change that state into a state of war; … it belongs to Congress only, to go to war.”

As Louis Fisher of the Constitution Project concludes: “The framers placed in Congress the authority to initiate war because they believed that executives, in their search for fame and personal glory, had a natural appetite for war and military initiatives, all of which inflicted heavy costs on the interests and liberties of their people.”

As candidate Obama recognized in 2007, the president needs congressional authorization for a military attack that is not related to an actual or imminent threat to the United States. What is happening in Syria is an ongoing atrocity. Tens of thousands of people have been killed — some, it appears, by the Bashar Assad government’s use of chemical weapons. This is a moral outrage. But it is not a direct threat to the United States, and the Obama administration does not suggest otherwise.

In order to find domestic authority for its actions, the administration would probably cite the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which seems to provide authority for the president to take the nation to war for up to 60 days or, in some circumstances, 90 days, without congressional approval as long as the president reports on his actions to Congress. The problem, however, is that the resolution — a legislative act — cannot trump the Constitution.

Since 1973, presidents and advocates of broad presidential power have argued that the resolution unconstitutionally limits the president’s ability to use military force. They are right that it is unconstitutional, but their reasoning is backward. The resolution is unconstitutional because it gives the president too much power by assigning some of Congress’ war power to the president. It does not provide legitimate authority for the Obama administration to order military action in Syria.

It is true that presidents — including Obama in the case of Libya two years ago — have ordered military action without congressional approval. The most notorious case is President Truman’s unilateral decision to send U.S. troops to the Korean peninsula. But past presidential practice cannot amend the Constitution.

None of this means the U.S. government is powerless to act. The Constitution provides a procedure: Congress can authorize the use of military force. If Obama believes military action in Syria is in the national interest, he should make his case to Congress and the public, as more than 100 lawmakers have urged.

Despite the horror of what is happening in Syria, history teaches that there is good reason for Congress and the public to ask questions. Military operations intended to be limited may turn into protracted action. Military strikes intended to be “surgical” may affect civilians. Military action against the abhorrent Assad regime may unintentionally help opponents of it, some of whom have ties to terrorist groups. As candidate Obama would have recognized in 2007, that is exactly why unilateral presidential action would be neither wise nor constitutional.

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.”

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times