President Abraham Lincoln usurped so much power over Congress during the Civil War - he expanded the military, appropriated money and suspended habeus corpus - that "it was hard to know his bounds of presidential powers," the Hon. Frank J. Williams told a crowded Dean Alexander Moot Court Room.
Lincoln didn't deny that these actions required Congressional approval. Instead, Lincoln argued that his acts were constitutional in a time of war because, for example, the courts were not designed for a "vast" emergency such as a war, thereby, the suspension of due process during crises was necessary.
Williams, a former Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, delivered his remarks on a panel as part of a two-day symposium by the Albany Government Law Review called "Lincoln's Legacy: Enduring Lessons of Executive Power."
Williams' panel, titled "Lincoln, Executive Power & the Modern Presidency," included Dr. Louis Fisher, a specialist in constitutional law with the Library of Congress, who spoke about Lincoln's impact on protecting the nation and the constitution.
The symposium opened with Lewis Lehrman, author of Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point, delivering the 2009 Edward C. Sobota '79 Memorial Lecture, called "Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence: From Peoria to the Presidency."
The symposium examined Lincoln's use of executive power and compared, as well as connected, his presidency to the use and abuse of executive power today. A series of panel presentations with experts in law and history spanned topics such as the politics of immigration reform and executive power in an age of terror.
The Edward C. Sobota '79 Memorial Lecture Series, which Williams delivered this year, was established in 1989 by his brother Henry Sobota '77, the Sobota Family and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.
Professor Paul Finkelman, the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at Albany Law School, who is a also an adviser to the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, co-advised the symposium with Professor Patty Salkin, the Raymond and Ella Smith Distinguished Professor of Law.
Papers presented at the conference will be published in the Albany Government Law Review's Spring 2010 issue.