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Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times

Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times

Scott M. Matheson, Jr.

ISBN 9780674031616

Publication date: 02/16/2009

From the Constitution’s adoption, presidents, Congress, judges, scholars, the press, and the public have debated the appropriate scope of presidential power during a crisis, especially when presidents see bending or breaking the rules as necessary to protect the country from serious, even irreparable, harm.

Presidential Constitutionalism in Perilous Times examines this quandary, from Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson’s enforcement of the Espionage Act of 1917 during World War I, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s evacuation and internment of West Coast Japanese during World War II, Harry S. Truman’s seizure of the steel mills during the Korean War to George W. Bush’s torture, surveillance, and detention programs following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Presidents have exercised extraordinary power to protect the nation in ways that raised serious constitutional concerns about individual liberties and separation of powers. By looking at these examples through different constitutional perspectives, Scott Matheson achieves a deeper understanding of wartime presidential power in general and of President Bush’s assertions of executive power in particular. America can function more effectively as a constitutional democracy in an unsafe world, he argues, if our leaders embrace an approach to presidential power that he calls executive constitutionalism.


  • At a time when citizens are vigorously discussing the proper balance between personal liberties and national security, Scott Matheson has produced a lucid, brilliant volume to guide this vital debate. Drawing on a wide swath of American history, Matheson convincingly demonstrates that the contemporary concern about presidential excess is not new. And he suggests a wise path for the nation to follow--one that will meet threats to our security but also will require presidents to respect constitutional limits.

    —Larry J. Sabato, author of A More Perfect Constitution and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics


  • 2009, Winner of the Chicago-Kent College of Law/Roy C. Palmer Civil Liberties Prize


  • Scott M. Matheson is Professor of Law, University of Utah.

Book Details

  • 248 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press