When reflecting on questions of National Security and Civil Liberties, it is important to look at the mesh of ethics within the political realm. One of the most important, and pertinent, aspects of the concept of civil liberties is the role the government holds over the liberties and freedoms of its citizens. This past fall our team attended the conference on National Security and Civil Liberties. The speakers in the opening session discussed this relationship between government rule and personal rights by looking at what structures are in place that help to protect our civil liberties as United States citizens and those that have the ability to strengthen the federal government’ s ability to infringe upon those liberties. When reviewing United State’s history, government structure, and pluralistic body of citizens, the interplay between these three variables has evolved, and continues to, as the world becomes even more connected and autonomy valued more so than ever before.
Within the United States Constitution, three branches of government are outlined, created in a framework of checks and balances; additionally, amendments to the constitution, including the Bill of Rights, protect the inherent rights of United States citizens. Here is where the fifth grade social studies lesson gets tricky—what happens when one branch of government is granted more power over another in efforts to either protect the state? A term that Professor Daniel Tichenor (University of Oregon) used that is especially important to this discussion is the “Prerogative President.” Tichenor gave examples of this type of presidency and included Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and George W. Bush as key examples. A prerogative president is one who is faced with the need to respond to a time of great turmoil and exercises much “prerogative” in protecting national security. Based upon the actions of the presidents listed, the presidency has gained much power and control over national and international policy, especially in the 20th century. This calls into question the checks and balances system put in place by the constitution and to what extent the prerogative of the executive branch has grown over the last century. As we enter more deeply into the 21st century and the makeup of the global community continues to change, it will be important to note the role the president takes in deciding which policies and actions are put into place by the United States, particularly in the realm of national security and involvement in foreign affairs.