During periods of armed conflict and fear of war, the U.S. government has often restricted and even curtailed the liberties and rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
The civil liberties contained in the U.S. Constitution were designed to protect citizens against abuses of power by government. The Bill of Rights sets limits on the government’s power to regulate an individual’s speech, religion, and political activities. In addition, it provides the government with certain procedures to ensure that individuals accused of crimes are treated fairly. The Constitution also empowers the government to pursue legitimate goals, one of the most important of which is defense of the nation. As the guardian of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has frequently been called upon to decide cases in which the government’s ability to wage war has come into conflict with the civil liberties of its citizens.
During World War II, many people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom were American citizens, were relocated to concentration camps away from the West Coast. This relocation order was posted in San Francisco in April, 1942.
When the Bill of Rights was ratified, attitudes about liberties and rights were much more limited than in later periods of history. During an undeclared naval war with France, for example, Congress passed the Sedition Law of 1798
During the course of the Civil War
In the case of Ex parte Merryman
In 1866, after the Civil War ended, the Court finally issued a ruling on the constitutionality of military trials of civilians in Ex parte Milligan
During World War I, Congress enacted the Espionage Act of 1917
In Debs v. United States
The Supreme Court’s commitment to civil liberties was severely tested during World War II (1941-1945). In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt
In reviewing prosecutions of alleged war criminals, the Stone Court usually deferred to the wishes of the executive branch. In Ex Parte Quirin
In Haupt v. United States
In comparison with its actions during the previous world war, the Court was not faced with the task of reviewing mammoth assaults on free expression. The Roosevelt administration did not prosecute large numbers of people for speech or press violations under either the Smith Act of 1940
After World War II, government prosecutors vigorously pursued communist leaders under the Smith Act, which threatened up to ten years imprisonment for any person who “advocates, abets, advises, or teaches” the desirability of a violent revolution. Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson
After the Korean War
During the late 1950’s, Justices Felix Frankfurter
During the Vietnam War (1965-1973)
As in other times of fear and war, the terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001,
Civil libertarians denounced President George W. Bush’s
Meanwhile, the Court faced decisions about whether to review cases involving the detaining of persons (both citizens and noncitizens) suspected of giving support to terrorists. After invading Afghanistan
An issue of greater significance was the fate of five hundred foreign citizens held on suspicion of supporting terrorism at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo,
Baker, Thomas, and John Stack, ed. At War with Civil Rights and Liberties. New York: Rowland & Littlefield, 2005. Cole, David. Terror and the Constitution: Sacrificing Constitutional Freedom in the Name of National Security. New York: New Press, 2006. Irons, Peter. Justice at War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Neely, Mark E. The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Rehnquist, William H. All the Laws but One: Civil Liberties in Wartime. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998. Stone, Geoffrey. Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004. Wilson, Richard A. Human Rights in the “War on Terror.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Yoo, John. The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs after 9/11. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Bill of attainder
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld
Japanese American relocation
Military and the Court
Speech and press, freedom of
World War II