BRIGHT IDEAS: Victor Hansen and Lawrence Friedman on The Case for Congress: Separation of Powers and the War on Terror
Today’s Brights Ideas piece comes from Professors Victor Hansen and Lawrence Friedman who both teach atNew England Law, Boston. The book, The Case for Congress: Separation of Powers and the War on Terror (Ashgate), shows how Congress still has vital role to play in the way our country conducts war. In addition, for all of you wondering about the gestation of a book, let alone one where two authors must work together, the authors share the story of the beginnings of the book and some insights about collaboration and the legal academy.
VICTOR HANSEN and LAWRENCE FRIEDMAN
The Case for Congress: Separation of Powers and the War on Terror
Despite the focus on Presidential power and its expansion since September 11, one branch of government has not received enough attention: Congress. Though the office of the President has over time accrued more power in the area of national security than the textual delegation in Article II would suggest, Congress still has an important role to play. At this writing, President Obama continues to pursue some of the same strategies adopted by his predecessor, and so it seems our representatives in Congress can never be reminded enough that they have the constitutional authority both to authorize and supervise many aspects of the defense of the nation against the threat posed by terrorism. This perspective drives our new book, The Case for Congress: Separation of Powers and the War on Terror.
Now, several years and a new Presidential administration after we began discussing the role of Congress in national security matters, we remain convinced that Congressional involvement should be encouraged.
The benefits of such Congressional action are many. Not least is the value that inheres in Congress, through enabling legislation and the apparatus of the political process, serving as a check on a President’s tyrannical impulses. In the end, as the framers imagined, Congressional involvement brings to the table a measure of accountability that exclusively executive decision making often lacks.
THE PROCESS: FROM DISCUSSIONS TO ARTICLES TO COLLABORATION
We started writing The Case for Congress: Separation of Powers and the War on Terror without even realizing it. As we note in the book’s preface, the project began as a discussion over lunch in late 2005 about various aspects of the war in Iraq and the war on terror. Each of us knew Americans on the ground in Iraq, and neither of us was impressed with the coverage of the war on terror in the popular media. In talking about the legality of the Bush administration’s moves in each of these conflicts, moreover, we thought about how terribly partisan the analysis of policy decisions had become, and we thought we could make a contribution to the debate by focusing, in a neutral way, on an institutional actor that seemed to be neglected: the United States Congress.
These discussions led to a series of essays published in the on-line journal Jurist, as well as to a larger project, a law review article about the Bush administration’s proposal to use secret evidence in the trials of terrorism detainees. That article was published in a symposium issue of the Roger Williams University Law Review on military justice in 2007.
Somewhere along the way, our work attracted the attention of an editor at the Vermont office of Ashgate Publishing, based in England. He contacted each of us separately to ask whether we had any interest in pulling together into a book some of the ideas we’d been toying with for a couple of years. This was in the spring of 2008. At the time, neither of us had written a book, or had much idea what it would take to turn one law review article and a handful of short essays into a longer work focusing on the issue to which we kept returning: the importance of Congressional involvement in foreign affairs and national security decisionmaking.
But once we decided we had more to say, we also discovered the writing was easy. In fact, working on the book became something of an attractive nuisance: each of us had other scholarly projects in process, as well as a full teaching load at New England School of Law, yet working on the book proved to be a welcome diversion from those responsibilities.
We learned something important in the process: It helps to collaborate. Collaboration is sometimes looked down upon in the legal academy, and for no good reason that we can discern. By collaborating on this project, we were able to get a manuscript to the publisher within months, rather than years, and see the book published in time for it (hopefully) to be relevant.