By LEON SCIOSCIA and LOUIS FISHER
On the occasion of its 175th anniversary, the Law Library of Congress launched a Legal Speaker Series titled "National Security and the Rule of Law." The inaugural lecture was delivered at the Library on March 29 by former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards, who was introduced by Law Librarian of Congress Rubens Medina.
Edwards is a lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and director of an Aspen Institute leadership program for elected public officials. With degrees in both journalism and law, Edwards is a regular columnist for a number of newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe. He also broadcasts a weekly political commentary on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered." His forthcoming book from Oxford University Press, "Reviving the Conservative Soul," is on the evolution of American conservatism and what he describes as a resulting constitutional crisis.
Edwards, who identified himself as a conservative Republican, does not side with those of either party who argue that constitutional rights must be suspended somewhat, on a temporary basis, to ensure an effective national security policy. Rather, he believes that special care is required to protect legal rights, particularly during times of emergency. His conservative values embrace such traditional principles as procedural safeguards, checks and balances, and the system of separation of powers.
Edwards spoke persuasively, "This particular topic on 'National Security and The Rule of Law' is important, and the consequences of the wrong decisions carry such a great potential for disaster. And my guess is that some of you understand that the potential disaster I speak about is in the area of security."
He cautioned, throughout the evening, that rights taken away temporarily are often difficult to reclaim, especially with a "war on terrorism" that will not terminate clearly as with previous military commitments. Edwards spoke plainly and eloquently about the duty of all citizens, public and private, to resist the call to subordinate the rule of law to the claimed needs of national security.
Edwards remarked, "It is when the danger is the greatest and when the consequences of miscalculations carry the greatest risk that we must enhance the protection of law, not diminish them … it is when the risk of the people is greatest that they must retain the right to be heard." He concluded, "Survival is not merely a physical matter. If one talks of the survival of a free society, it is the survival of the free in that formulation that is equally important. Freedoms, once lost, are not easily regained."
For 16 years, Edwards served as a member of Congress, during which time he was a senior member of the House Republican leadership as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, a member of both the House Appropriations and Budget Committees and ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations.
After leaving Congress, he taught government and public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Law School, Princeton University and Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute.
Edwards has chaired task forces on foreign policy for the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations and is a director of several organizations in the fields of public policy and foreign affairs, including the Constitution Project.
Leon Scioscia is special assistant to the Law Librarian of Congress. Louis Fisher is senior special assistant to the Law Librarian of Congress.