Gordon Silverstein, LAPA Fellow; University of California, Berkeley

U.S. War and Emergency Powers: The Virtues and Vice of Constitutional Ambiguity

Mon, 04/11/2011
4:30 PM, Library Lounge, Bendheim Center for Finance

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Gordon Silverstein, LAPA Fellow and asssistant professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, for a discussion of "U.S. War and Emergency Powers: The Virtues and Vice of Constitutional Ambiguity." His commentator will be Paul Frymer, Associate Professor of Politics.

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Library Lounge at the Bendheim Center for Finance, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet.

Silverstein writes, "One of the few things on which liberals and conservatives agree is that the ambiguity built into the separation of powers in the American Constitution is a problem that must be fixed. Conservatives rely on constitutional reinterpretation to establish a clear line between Executive power in foreign policy and war (which they embrace) and national authority to regulate domestic and economic affairs (which they do not). For liberals, at least since Vietnam and Watergate, ambiguity was seen as an invitation for the abuse of Executive power, and the solution was thought to be a set of formal allocations of power tied to strict statutory limits on the exercise of those powers. These efforts have failed - each producing results quite the opposite of what was sought. This paper asks whether we might reconsider the virtues of constitutional ambiguity, the essential lubricant in America's 18th Century constitutional machinery."

Gordon Silverstein is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley where he teaches courses in American constitutional law, American political thought, comparative constitutionalism and the separation of powers. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is the author of Law's Allure: How Law Shapes, Constrains, Saves and Kills Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2009) -- which has been awarded the C. Herman Pritchett Prize by the Law & Courts Section of the American Political Science Association for the best book published in 2009 in the field of Law & Courts -- and he is the author of Imbalance of Powers: Constitutional Interpretation and the Making of American Foreign Policy (Oxford University Press, 1997). After completing his undergraduate education at Cornell University, Silverstein worked as a journalist for the Wall Street Journal in New York and Hong Kong and the San Francisco Chronicle. Silverstein has published a number of articles on aspects of constitutional law and the separation of powers, and some of his work has been supported by a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Prior to Berkeley, Silverstein taught at Dartmouth College, Rice University and the University of Minnesota and served as a program director for the New America Foundation in Washington, DC. In addition to continuing his research and writing on American foreign policy, law and the separation of powers, at Princeton Silverstein will focus on the comparative study of the emergence and entrenchment of judicial review.

Paul Frymer teaches and writes on topics in American law and politics, particularly as they intersect with issues of democratic representation, race and civil rights, and labor and employment. He is a former LAPA fellow (2004-2005), as well as Acting Director (2009-2010). He is the author of two books: Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America (reissued in 2010 with an afterward on President Obama's election) and Black and Blue: African Americans, the Labor Movement, and the Decline of the Democratic Party (2008), both of which were published by Princeton University Press. He has also either authored or is currently writing about topics ranging from legal understandings of political parties to the racial politics of Hurricane Katrina and affirmative action to the role of law and politics in the historical development of American territorial expansion.