In times of crisis there is an unmistakable tendency to augment and extend the powers of the executive branch. This centralizing tendency has been exhibited in numerous legal systems and through varied kinds of crisis. More recently, similar trends have been much in evidence in the United States, and a corresponding academic discourse defending and extolling the virtues of such augmentation has emerged. This Article is skeptical of the virtues of such advice and its ultimate policy benefits. We assert that there are substantial dangers to the centralization of crisis powers in times of emergency. These tendencies hold particular perils for the democratic state. Moreover, the rush to create or cement decision and review making hierarchies can be antithetical to the project of utilizing the strengths of rule of law based societies to respond to the challenges posed by violent actors. The purported benefits of excluding, or at best sidelining, the courts from review of executive actions of crisis regulation are particularly ill-conceived. Such proposals consistently fail to engage with the importance of across-the-board institutional legal engagement with state action in times of crisis. The success and value of such engagement cannot be measured from the crisis vantage point. Rather it requires an assessment beyond the moment of exception, factoring in a return to normalcy and the impact on law and legal institutions in the post-crisis phase. We assert that scholars advocating for exclusive executive supremacy in times of crisis fail to measure the harms that may be caused by inept or illegal state action, not only as experienced by individual victims but to the broader project of discouraging and dissuading the resort to group based violence.
* Professor, Chair and Co-Director Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster & Dorsey and Whitney Chair, Law University of Minnesota Law School.
** Professor, Irving Younger Chair, Law University of Minnesota Law School.
We want to thank participants in the 2007 Constitutional Law Schmooze at Princeton University and the LAPA program for creating a space in which many of the issues identified in this Article were further discussed. Thanks also to Dr. Michael Hamilton and Professor Alice Ristroph for comments on earlier drafts.