By: Lawrence M. Friedman Professor Eric Posner recently explained a dilemma the federal courts face in the wake of President Trump’s election: how to check unconstitutional excesses while, at the same time, respecting the deference afforded “the president on national-security matters” in light of the president’s ability to act “on the basis of classified information,” coupled with the “need to move quickly.” That deference turns on a level of trust of the executive that courts, as exemplified by the unanimous decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in State of Washington v. Trump, may not hold. Posner warns of the possibility that the president, faced with many such decisions, might defy the courts. This raises the question whether the possibility of defiance, in itself, justifies adhering to the traditional deference the courts accord national security decision-making.
Associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump have suggested that the infamous Supreme Court decision upholding the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Korematsu v. United States, could be used to justify measures aimed at tracking and potentially detaining Muslim-Americans and Muslim immigrants. As Professor Noah Feldman has recently noted, the Korematsu decision is widely regarded today as having been wrongly decided and it has been, as Justice Stephen G. Breyer has put it, “discredited.” But there is another reason why the precedential value of Korematsu has been diminished: its basic premise has been undermined by the Supreme Court’s more recent decisions in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Boumediene v. Bush.