All The Laws But One: Civil Liberties In Wartime

All The Laws But One: Civil Liberties In Wartime

  • Publish Date: 2000-01-04
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: William H. Rehnquist
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In All the Laws but One, William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of the United States, provides an insightful and fascinating account of the history of civil liberties during wartime and illuminates the cases where presidents have suspended the law in the name of national security.

Abraham Lincoln, champion of freedom and the rights of man, suspended the writ of habeas corpus early in the Civil War--later in the war he also imposed limits upon freedom of speech and the press and demanded that political criminals be tried in military courts. During World War II, the government forced 100,000 U.S. residents of Japanese descent, including many citizens, into detainment camps. Through these and other incidents Chief Justice Rehnquist brilliantly probes the issues at stake in the balance between the national interest and personal freedoms. With All the Laws but One he significantly enlarges our understanding of how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution during past periods of national crisis--and draws guidelines for how it should do so in the future. In the first hectic days of the American Civil War, the future of the Union was in doubt. Troops traveling to defend Washington were waylaid by mobs in Maryland. In the midst of this crisis, Abraham Lincoln sought to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to permit the military to detain those who were interfering with the prosecution of the war. When the Supreme Court limited his ability to do so, Lincoln complained that the Court was allowing "all the laws, but one, go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated." Eventually, civil liberties were curtailed for the duration of the Civil War--as they would be again in World Wars I and II.

That Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist's analysis of civil liberties in wartime is entitled All the Laws but One hints where he comes down on the subject. Rehnquist acknowledges and criticizes the excesses of civil liberties violations in wartime--during World War I, for example, editorial cartoonists critical of the government were prosecuted for sedition. But he defends the need to curtail some liberties in emergency situations--including, surprisingly, some instances of the evacuation and relocation of Japanese Americans that took place during World War II. Rehnquist's style can be disjointed at times--as when cursory biographical information of key players seems to have been tacked on to fill out the otherwise slim volume--but the historical analysis of martial law and other Civil War controversies, which comprises the overwhelming majority of the book, remains fascinating. --Ted Frank

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