Bruce Ackerman

Bruce Ackerman is a professor of law at Yale and the author of We the People.

Recent Articles

Fear Itself

The bomb exploded at 4:40 p.m. Minutes earlier I had walked across campus to deliver a manuscript -- a labor of love -- to my publisher, Yale University Press. It had been a triumphant moment. My first thought at the sound of the blast: At least I finished the book before Osama bin Laden finished me! The nation was on "orange" alert. I braced for the terrorists' second strike. But nothing followed except an ear-splitting emergency alarm. So down the main staircase I rushed -- past the smoke-filled classroom, through the majestic corridor that was eerily quiet and entirely intact. I was soon standing in the open, surrounded by soaring Gothic spires, and the mock-heroic aspect of the enterprise overwhelmed me. This tiny explosion was obviously an amateur operation: no injuries, no structural damage. But thanks to the orange alert, it was sure to be transformed into yet another (minor) battle in the war on terrorism. In putting the nation on high alert back on May 20 -- several days ago...

Raw Deal

Nobody can predict the future shape of the constitutional world that was created on September 11, but history can put it in perspective. This is not the first time American leaders have attempted a radical reorganization of the nation's aims and ambitions. From the country's founding through the civil-rights revolution, there have been many similar efforts -- sometimes successful, sometimes disastrous. What is distinctive about this one? Most successful transformations have been the product of political movements that gained grass-roots support for decades before their final triumph. An entire generation's struggle to redefine America lies behind the Constitution of 1787, and the same is true of the Reconstruction Amendments of the 1860s and the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. But this isn't true of the new politics emerging out of 9-11. Rather than responding to a movement from within, we are responding to hostile forces from without. Pearl Harbor provides the most obvious parallel...

Never Again

A healthy constitutional system learns from its mistakes, and we have made a big one. Congress should never again write the president a blank check to make war. The precedent left by the first President Bush has cast a very large shadow on this present crisis. Before making his war in the Persian Gulf, Bush Senior first gained the consent of the United Nations Security Council before turning to Congress for authorization. These actions presaged two great principles for the new world order emerging out of the Cold War. The first was the principle of double veto: There could be no major war without the consent of both Congress and the United Nations. The second was the principle of Congress' last say: Only after the UN Security Council established that war was consistent with the UN Charter would Congress decide whether it was in the best interests of the United States. This time around, President Bush asked Congress to sacrifice the second principle to save the first. He argued that...

Two Fronts

The United Nations Security Council must now make two decisions on Iraq, but the Bush administration is focusing on only one. So far as President Bush is concerned, the big question is whether he can convince the council that Iraq is in "material breach" of its resolution on disarmament. But if the Security Council refuses to authorize an Anglo-American invasion, it is going to face a second question: Will it withdraw the UN inspectors from Iraq? If the inspectors stay, the administration will confront an unprecedented situation: A unilateral U.S. invasion would not only constitute war against Iraq. It would mean making war on the United Nations by threatening the lives of inspectors who remain at work in and around Baghdad. The United States can't use its veto in the Security Council to force the inspectors out. Their activities in Baghdad are already authorized under existing resolutions. Because no new resolution is required to keep them in Iraq, there is nothing the United States...

Government by Half-Truth

The president owes us an explanation. The North Koreans had already told him about their nuclear weapons at the time Congress was debating war with Iraq. But he kept this information secret from the House and Senate. And he failed to mention it in his address to the American people in which he urged quick passage of a war resolution. Yet the secret was obviously crucial to the ongoing debate. If North Korea, not Iraq, had nuclear weapons, were we targeting the wrong member of the "axis of evil"? Were we running the risk of waging two preventive wars at the same time? Wouldn't this outstrip our self-defense resources if al-Qaeda attacked again? The Constitution expressly reserves the authorization of war for Congress, giving special recognition to its unique importance. The president has no authority to undermine Congress' role by withholding key facts central to its decision. Perhaps he might find that national-security considerations require him to withhold some facts from the public...

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