Panel 5 Protection the Nation: Executive Power in an Age of Terror

Meredith Perry, Executive Editor of the Government Law Review

The Powers of the President in an Age of Terror—Dr. Abraham Wagner, Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

      Dr. Wagner started his talk on the use of executive powers by the President with a discussion of September 11th.  Dr. Wagner noted how prior to September 11th the United States had not been attacked since 1812, noting that at the time of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was merely a U.S. territory and not a state.  Further, the media exacerbated the magnitude of September 11th.  Dr. Wagner detailed how the casualties of September 11th totaled around 3,000 and how this number is not enough to cause the end of a republic, especially when about 457,000 people die each year from smoking.  Also, Dr. Wagner mentioned how September 11th was the most significant intelligence failure since the 1962 Missile Crisis.  It is also important to note that during the months following September 11th, there was a great amount of limited and conflicting data.

      Dr. Wagner discussed how executive power was an enormous concern of our Founding Fathers, as seen in the Federalist Papers.  He transitioned to President George W. Bush’s use of executive power by pointing out that its use, throughout time, is more cyclical than serial.  President Bush used executive power following September 11th, having no experience in national security, and with a “supporting cast,” which included Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Powell, Wolfowitz, and Ashcroft.  The need to save the nation from impending threats, such as the report of a nuke targeting New York City (also known as the Dragonfly threat), spurred President Bush to exercise Executive Power. The Bush Doctrine changed the U.S. approach from that of strategic globalism to preemption, as is witnessed by the United State’s actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

      Through President Bush’s use of executive power, the U.S. detained foreign nationals in such prisons as Guantanamo Bay, tortured these prisoners and detainees through the implementation of secret programs (now supported by the Department of Justice’s “Torture Memos”), and instituted a domestic surveillance program.  Dr. Wagner detailed how there is no approval or support for these actions under FISA, Title III of § 1986, nor the U.S. Constitution.  Both of the laws governing electronic surveillance, FISA and Title III, are ancient compared to the technology used today.  Dr. Wagner specifically commented that they are “best seen in the Smithsonian and not applicable to our current means of communication.”  In regards to the Constitution, neither the First nor the Fourth amendments really apply.  Particularly, Dr. Wagner commented that the Fourth Amendment and its right to privacy might apply in regards to preventing the “Big Brother” listening; however, there is nothing about communication explicitly anywhere in the Constitution or the Amendments.

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Panel 4 Emancipation Today: The Politics of Immigration Reform

Amanda Sherman, Managing Editor for Business and Production for the Government Law Review

 Lincoln & Immigration:  Angela Alexander, Instructor of History and Humanities, York Technical College 

           Instructor Alexander began discussing the nativist movement of the mid-1800s.  This group, whose motto was “America for the Americans” believed that no foreign-born citizens should govern in America.  The voice of the anti-nativist at this time was much softer, although it may not have been less popular.  Instructor Alexander said that Lincoln saw each ethnic group as distinct; he had a unique conception of those who were not born in America.  In the instructor’s words, “Lincoln treated people as people.”  In her presentation, Instructor Alexander detailed President Lincoln’s encounters with several minority groups as a depiction of Lincoln’s conception of non-natives.

           The group that Lincoln was most in contact with was the Germans, which was the most common immigrant group in Illinois in his day.  Lincoln owned a German language newspaper in Springfield, and also worked and corresponded with many Germans.  In a letter, circa 1858, Lincoln wrote, “Our fellow German citizens, ever true to liberty . . . not for special classes of men, but for all men.  True to the union and the constitution as the best means to advance that liberty.”[1]

           Additionally, Lincoln wanted to ensure that Germans could read his speeches in their own language.  Although, Instructor Alexander says this was politically advantageous for Lincoln, it was mutually beneficial to the Germans.  Germans and others were to be judged by their individual merit and not their nativity.  The instructor went on to detail Lincoln’s encounters with the Jewish and Irish population.  She spoke of Lincoln’s handling of General Ulysses S. Grant’s denial of orders to pay permits for Jewish individuals in 1862 as a demonstration of his ability to divorce himself from certain political or social pressures in order to do what he felt was necessary.

            Continue reading “Panel 4 Emancipation Today: The Politics of Immigration Reform”

Panel 3 Necessary & Proper: Executive Power and the Economy

Kristin Wernig, Managing Editor for Submissions for the Government Law Review

Lincoln & the Birth of a National EconomyDr. Jenny B. Wahl, Professor of Economics, Carleton College

         Dr. Jenny Wahl opened the panel by pointing out that Abraham Lincoln could not have won the civil war and freed the slaves without the crucial step of figuring out how to finance that war.  When Lincoln began his term as President, he inherited a banking system that was in shambles and burdened by high debt.   It was the Civil War which exposed the country’s inability to deal with large scale expenditures and the need for change

        The financial system that existed at the beginning of Lincoln’s presidency had one significant restriction:  one could only spend what money he had on hand.  This type of system, known as a Fractional Reserve Banking system, as it existed at this time, worked “on faith”, meaning that its stability relied on the faith of the creditor that the bank could redeem their notes.  While this system allowed notes to circulate freely, if faith in the bank was lost and many creditors attempted to have their notes redeemed at the same time, the bank could default or go into insolvency.  Lincoln understood the problems with the system as it existed and knew that a change was necessary.  But as the war waged on and promises piled up, the need to fulfill these promises increased as did the need to finance these promises.

          It was the fall of Fort Sumter on April 13, 1861 and the events that followed, that gave Lincoln the opportunity he needed to bring change to the strained banking system.  The creation of greenback money eliminated the need for banks to keep full backing in reserve as with fiat money and the designation of them as legal tender eliminated the need for the various types of currency that had been circulating throughout the nation.  With the creation of a national banking system and the taxing of state bank notes, state banks were forced into the federal banking system, ensuring national implementation.

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Panel 2 The Lawyer Presidents: Lincoln, Obama & the Rule of Law

Robert Magee, Former Managing Editor of the Fireplace Blog

         Panel Two was entitled The Lawyer Presidents: Lincoln, Obama, and the Rule of Law.  It featured three speakers, each of whom strove to connect the lessons of Lincoln’s Presidency to the problems faced by the Obama Administration.  The first was Dr. Timothy Huebner, Associate Professor of History at Rhodes College, the second was Dr. Thomas C. Mackey, Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, and the third was Anthony Paul Farley, the James Campbell Matthews Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence at Albany Law School. 

            Dr. Huebner’s talk was entitled The Supreme Court and the Presidency: Lincoln/Taney and Obama/Roberts.  In it he outlined the revolution in America’s understanding of the Constitution that Lincoln represented.  Symbolically, it was a revolution against the constitutional view Chief Justice Taney represented when he swore in President Lincoln in March of 1864.  Dr. Huebner began by noting that the swearing in of President Obama was the first in which a Chief Justice swore in someone who had voted against his appointment to the Supreme Court.  As we all remember, this was an awkward moment. 

            This awkwardness was nothing compared, Dr. Huber noted, to Chief Justice Taney’s swearing in of Lincoln.  Taney had spent his career as both a politician and a judge promoting a Jacksonian constitutional understanding, an understanding typified in his opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford.[1]  It was a view that considered individual liberty and political power to be inherently opposed to one another.  It was a view which generally opposed centralization of power and which viewed the right to own property as the cornerstone of individual freedom.  Thus, Chief Justice Taney held in Dred Scott that a slaveholder’s individual right to own and use his property trumped federal prohibitions against the spread of slavery in the territories.  Dr. Huebner stressed that Taney’s holding that the Constitution had been written by the Founders on the understanding that slaves were to be property and not citizens was not the crucial concern of Taney’s, no matter how essential it was to its logic.  It was this idea of individual liberty which informed Taney’s jurisprudence and which led him to conclude that government’s role under the Constitution was a limited one.  In Dred Scott Taney had memorialized his most fundamental political inclinations and, in doing so, brought constitutional jurisprudence to the head of a movement that began under Jackson in the 1830s. Continue reading “Panel 2 The Lawyer Presidents: Lincoln, Obama & the Rule of Law”