The Columns

Jack Goldsmith to Give Lectures on Limits of Executive Power and on the Terror Presidency

— by on November 13th, 2007

Goldsmith, author of The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Presidency and W&L alumnus, will deliver two lectures on Monday, Nov. 26. The first will be at 2:00 p.m. in the Millhiser Moot Court Room. It is titled “Are there Limits on Executive Power in an Age of Terror?” This talk is sponsored by the Lewis Law Center, the Transnational Law Institute, and the Department of Philosophy.

The second lecture, titled “Terror and the Presidency,” is at 8 p.m. in Lee Chapel with a question and answer session following the lecture. There will be a reception in the Alumni House following the 8 p.m. talk. Both the 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. events are open to the public without charge.

Published this September, Goldsmith’s book is shaking up intellectual circles in the United States, and has generated interviews on Sunday and late-evening talk shows, including a full hour on the Charlie Rose Show and a segment on the PBS Frontline series “Cheney’s Law.”

A central player in the Bush Administration, Goldsmith is the former chief of the office of legal counsel, whose duty it is to advise the president on what he can and cannot do legally. The position has been described as “the most important job in Washington that you never heard of.”

When appointed in October 2003, Goldsmith immediately began a review of the work of his predecessors. He found many of their opinions to be deeply flawed-in particular, the treatment and interrogation of prisoners and wire tapping laws-and began writing a series of opinions to reverse them.

Goldsmith resigned from chief of the office of legal counsel in August 2004, just 10 months after his appointment, and at approximately the same time that Attorney General John Ashcroft resigned. They were both unwilling to serve an administration, and notably the vice president and his chief counsel; the president’s counsel; the White House chief of staff; and others who were running rough-shod over the law and contrary to the opinions Goldsmith was providing them.

The timing of the resignations came after that nighttime trip to the critically ill Ashcroft’s hospital room, when Gonzalez and Card tried to persuade Ashcroft to re-authorize an executive order declaring that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees taken in Afghanistan and Iraq. The acting attorney general had refused to agree, and Gonzalez and Card were putting pressure on the very ill Ashcroft. Showing a couple of minutes of high energy after appearing near death, Ashcroft declared that he was not the attorney general and then chastised Gonzalez and Card firmly.

Jack Goldsmith describes himself as a “philosophical conservative,” but he is troubled deeply by people doing things in violation of the United States Constitution, of treaty obligations of the United States and of laws enacted by Congress. He is cited by one commentator for his “unflinching insistence that we abide by the law,” and is known widely as a brilliant lawyer.

Jack Goldsmith is the Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law in the Harvard Law School. He is a 1984 graduate of Washington and Lee University with a summa cum laude degree in philosophy. He earned B.A. and M.A. degrees at Oxford and a J.D. degree at the Yale Law School. He also holds a diploma in private international law from the Hague Academy of International Law.