All the Laws But One

William H. Rehnquist, Author, Rehnquist, Author
William H. Rehnquist, Author, Rehnquist, Author Alfred A. Knopf $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-679-44661-3
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
In this lively account, Chief Justice Rehnquist tests the Roman maxim inter arma silent leges (in time of war the laws are silent) against American history and discusses the judiciary's response to government's wartime lawlessness. He begins with the Civil War, when the Lincoln administration ""chose to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, interfere with freedom of speech and of the press, and try suspected political criminals before military commissions."" Lincoln's defense of these practices gave the book its title, ""Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself to go to pieces, lest that one be violated?"" The tension between individual liberties and wartime necessities runs throughout the work as Rehnquist discusses several celebrated Civil War habeas corpus cases (Ex Parte Merryman and Ex Parte Milligan); political dissent during WWI; the internment of Japanese-Americans; and Hawaii's military government during WWII. Rehnquist reaches the considered conclusion that ""the most important task is achieving a proper balance between freedom and order. In wartime, reason and history both suggest that this balance shifts to some degree in favor of order--in favor of the government's ability to deal with conditions that threaten the national well-being."" Nevertheless, since the Civil War, courts have tamed the government's power to restrict civil liberties in wartime. Rehnquist is a diligent scholar and a compelling storyteller, who guides his readers to a consideration of abstract moral and legal issues in the light of specific historical circumstances. (Oct.)
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