Wartime America and The Wire: A Response to Posner’s Post-9/11 Constitutional Framework

52 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2009 Last revised: 29 Jun 2011

See all articles by Dawinder S. Sidhu

Dawinder S. Sidhu

University of Maryland at Shady Grove

Date Written: September 13, 2009


Pragmatists subscribe to the view that an individual’s practical experiences shape and inform an individual’s concept of the law. In Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency, one of the legal community’s most admired and prolific pragmatists, Judge Richard A. Posner, presents his thoughts on how courts should resolve questions of constitutional law that implicate national security and individual rights.

As the relationship between security and liberty remains largely undefined in the post-9/11 world, Posner offers an important and timely perspective on a critical area of constitutional law. His framework is one in which security interests invariably supercede liberty interests in times of crisis. As such, according to Posner, an executive possesses significant authority to respond to national security needs in wartime and despite established rights, the judiciary should commensurately play a limited checking role on relevant executive action, profiling and discrimination of Muslims may be condoned, torture can be used to elicit information from detainees, and an executive may invoke the “law of necessity” to step outside of the “law of the Constitution.”

This essay uses an element of practical reality -- specifically themes from the acclaimed television series on law enforcement and crime, The Wire -- to challenge each of these conclusions from Not a Suicide Pact. Drawing on those themes, it argues that security and liberty are not locked in a zero sum game, that the judiciary should robustly check executive action especially in these perilous times, that profiling and discrimination of Muslims in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing should be deemed impermissible, that torture is not only inconsistent with American legal obligations but also counterproductive to the war campaign, and finally that the executive is bound by and must not act beyond the Constitution, exigent circumstances and moral positions notwithstanding.

The essay thus suggests that the courts should give pause to the direction of constitutional law urged by Posner. Appealing to both law and practical reason, it admits that the law must be flexible in the post-9/11 era, but posits that the law and traditional constitutional norms still must guide and restrain the executive temptation to defend the nation at all costs.

Keywords: liberty, security, 9/11, wartime, executive authority, profiling, torture, extraconstitutionalism

Suggested Citation

Sidhu, Dawinder S., Wartime America and The Wire: A Response to Posner’s Post-9/11 Constitutional Framework (September 13, 2009). George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal (CRLJ), Vol. 20, No. 1, 2009, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1414006

Dawinder S. Sidhu (Contact Author)

University of Maryland at Shady Grove ( email )

9636 Gudelsky Drive
Rockville, MD 20850
United States

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