Was the Manhattan Project Unconstitutional?

87px-JROppenheimer-LosAlamosSorry to interrupt the coverage of the missing plane, but . . .

I was reading Garry Wills’ book on Bomb Power:  The Modern Presidency and the National Security State, and he raises the following question:  Was the Manhattan Project unconstitutional because its funding was not disclosed?  Article I, Section 9, says “a Regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”  There are no express exceptions.  By contrast, Article I, Section 5 does contain an exception for recording information in the Journal of each House with respect “such parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy.”  Consequently, you could say that the lack of such an exception on accounts and budgeting means that there is none.  As far as I know, the Manhattan Project was the first case where military spending was concealed, though I’m not certain.

On the other hand, the Manhattan Project is seen as such a great success that it may constitute a precedent that creates an unwritten exception for public disclosure when national security is at stake.  That is in fact how it’s been treated for the last seventy years.  Moreover, nobody has standing to challenge secret military or intelligence spending as unconstitutional (or at least it is hard to see how somebody could obtain standing).

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5 Responses

  1. Calvino says:

    Your first sentence makes me wonder:

    Are you a real peach at cocktail parties?

  2. Mike Stern says:

    “As far as I know, the Manhattan Project was the first case where military spending was concealed, though I’m not certain.”

    I am not sure what this means. Are you suggesting that, during say the Civil War, there would have been a published list of all military operations (payments for spies, sabotage, etc) or weapons that were being developed? This seems highly unlikely to me. Though I don’t know either. I do know that the intelligence budget was concealed for many years, but its not like the spending was off budget. It was just placed in the larger Pentagon spending so that no one could know exactly how much was spent on intelligence activities.

  3. Gerard Magliocca says:

    No–I’m referring to some general statement. The Manhattan Project didn’t show up in any form in the budget. No budget item need be discussed in great detail to satisfy the constitutional requirement.

  4. Joe says:

    What was the cost of the Manhattan Project? Where did the money come from?

    The provision would be rather weak if the “statement” rule could be honored simply by giving a lump sum amount such “the army spent 10 million last year,” but how fine we have to be would be a more complicated matter.

  5. Studying Law says:

    Great post! Been reading a lot about different cases like this. Thanks for the info!