Presidential emergency powers: Security versus civil liberties

by The Washington Times Communities  |  published on January 21, 2013

civil liberties

In the name of national security, US presidents have historically enacted extreme policies that have violated civil liberties. From time to time, grave crises have threatened the United States and have compelled President’s to react accordingly.

The Constitution does not say the Executive branch can suspend habeas corpus or violate civil liberties. However, presidents have used laws, US Code, and Executive Orders to justify emergency powers that consequently violate our civil liberties.

Every President has the awesome responsibility of balancing national security risk with preserving the Constitution.

Resolving the war on terror, the national emergency of our time, will likely take several decades to resolve. Unfortunately, freedoms and civil liberties are necessary casualties of this long war. Without security, there is uncertainty and uncertainty leads to chaos.

Emergency powers are inherent to the office of the President and are protected by the US Constitution and through legislative action. According to a 1973 Senate special committee, presidential emergency powers are authorized in over 470 provisions of federal law. To date, US Presidents have authored and enacted 147 Executive Orders (EO) related to national security. These laws and EOs are, in effect, a menu for the president to reference when enacting emergency powers.

What is most compelling for the president’s emergency powers is the Constitutionally mandated oath of office, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”. This oath implies the President has vast powers as Commander in Chief to “preserve” and “protect” the Constitution as he sees fit.

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