Panel 1 Lincoln, Executive Power & The Modern Presidency

Marisa Floriani, Managing Editor of the Government Law Review Fireplace Blog

Lincoln and Executive Power — Hon. Frank J. Williams, Chief Justice, Rhode Island Supreme Court 

          Hon. Frank J. Williams opened the symposium with “the U.S. suffered an unexpected attack.”  As he described the state of America during war time, he drew parallels between Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush.  As a member of the audience, I couldn’t help but think – the more things change, the more things stay the same.  Hon. Williams highlighted the difficult legal position any president is placed in during war time.  He brilliantly stated that a doctor gives a sick man medicine that he would not give a well man, and the same logic should be applied for the power a president exerts during war time as opposed to a time of peace.

         During the Civil War, Lincoln increased the army and navy, appropriated money, declared a blockade, and, most controversially, authorized the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.  These acts required congressional consent; however, Lincoln completely bypassed that requirement.  According to Hon. Williams these were Lincoln’s necessities in order to handle the “northern realities.”  So what was Lincoln’s constitutional basis to suspend the writ of habeas corpus? 

            Hon. Williams described two cases that reflected Lincoln’s view of the Constitution.  First, Lincoln acted then he went to Congress for ratification.  Lincoln had realized he had stretched his power, but Lincoln acted out of necessity.  Second, Lincoln criticized the Albany Democrats for invoking safeguards, for it was Lincoln’s belief that their arguments would have been stronger if the safeguards had been placed during wartime.  Therefore it is clear from Hon. Williams’ discussion that it was Lincoln’s belief that war-time presidents should be allotted certain flexibilities, and Lincoln acted accordingly.

       Although his actions may have eventually been deemed unconstitutional, Lincoln has been forgiven by society.  Does this mean that one day society will forgive George W. Bush for his decisions in war time?  Only time will tell.

  Continue reading “Panel 1 Lincoln, Executive Power & The Modern Presidency”

Is Your Commute to Work Fueled by Pork?

Eric Schillinger, Staff Writer,

In his inaugural address this past Tuesday, President Obama challenged Americans to confront the many crises facing the nation.1 One such crisis is America’s continued reliance on foreign oil for energy.  President Obama noted the need for the country to move away from this reliance, stating that “each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.”2 President Obama’s vision for an energy efficient and independent America will hopefully inspire Americans to take responsibility for how they approach energy consumption by working to minimize fuel use in favor of “green” transportation.

Ironically, when former President George W. Bush signed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act3 of 2008 (EESA) into law last fall he helped lay the ground work for a potential, federally funded bicycle commuting program that may help decrease America’s reliance on foreign oil, discourage urban flight and suburban sprawl, and increase the health and well being of Americans.

The EESA contains three separate divisions, each a discrete Act unto itself.4 Section 211 of Division B, a little publicized line item provision within the 451-page EESA, has little logical connection to the economic bailout necessitated by the sub-prime mortgage crisis.56 Division B of the Act began as a separate bill, but the House eventually tacked it onto the proposed bailout bill as the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 (EIEA).7 With just one small provision titled “Transportation fringe benefit to bicycle commuters,” Section 211 of the EIEA amends the Tax Code to exempt bicycle commuting costs paid to employees by employers.8 In part, Section 211 states:

    The term ‘qualified bicycle commuting reimbursement’ means, with respect to any calendar year, any employer reimbursement during the 15-month period beginning with the first day of such calendar year for reasonable expenses incurred by the employee during such calendar year for the purchase of a bicycle and bicycle improvements, repair, and storage, if such bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment.9

Simply put, the bicycle provision of the Act provides a tax incentive for bicycle commuters.  Employers may now offer, as a tax-free fringe benefit, reimbursement of costs associated with cycling to work.  The provision requires the rider to show that he or she “regularly uses the bicycle for a substantial portion of the travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment. . . . “10 If the rider fulfills these requirements, then he or she is eligible to exclude employer reimbursement for bicycle commuting costs up to $20 per month (for a maximum of $240 per year) from gross income. Continue reading “Is Your Commute to Work Fueled by Pork?”