Holmes on Emergencies
Harvard Law School
Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 07-07
Justice Holmes's judicial and extrajudicial writings implicitly suggest a coherent account of emergencies, law, and constitutional adjudication. I will call this account the epistemic theory of emergencies. Its main elements are that (1) the existence and duration of an emergency are questions of fact; (2) during emergencies courts should not practice judicial minimalism or the passive virtues; (3) during emergencies there are no non-derogable rights - government can do anything if circumstances warrant; (4) the main checks on governmental action during emergencies are that (a) legislative limitation of executive powers trumps, where the political branches disagree; and (b) judges engage in ex post sunsetting, once an emergency has in fact ended, by declaring the emergency terminated and rescinding the government's emergency powers. I then offer a broader evaluation of Holmes's views, suggesting that the epistemic theory of emergencies is the best version of a common-law strategy for regulating government action during emergencies. Throughout, the enterprise is not biographical, historical or doctrinal; it is theoretical.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 34
Keywords: constitutional law, national security law, emergencies, Holmes and/or Justice Holmes
Date posted: July 5, 2007