Manufactured Emergencies

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Yale Law School




Emergencies are presumed to be unusual affairs, but the United States has been in one state of emergency or another for the last forty years. That is a concern. The erosion of democratic norms has led not only to the collapse of the traditional conceptual boundary between ordinary rule and emergency governance, but also to the emergence of an even graver problem: the manufactured crisis. In an age characterized by extreme partisanship, institutional gridlock, and technological manipulation of information, it has become exceedingly easy and far more tempting for a President to invoke extraordinary power by ginning up exigencies. To reduce this threat to political order, we must recalibrate judicial incentives to reward good-faith invocations of limited emergency power, while punishing efforts to solve ordinary public-policy disputes by fabricating or grossly exaggerating problems. This Essay is a start: it recommends the situational loss of deference whenever there is reason to believe public officials are lying about an emergency or have grossly exaggerated the nature, severity, or duration of a real problem. It also urges review of emergency-salient facts. These moves are more important, not less, when the government invokes national security. And while it would entail a change in current practice, it would actually represent a return to an older effort on the part of judges to insist upon truth and empiricism. The approach would be helpful, for instance, in legal challenges to Trump’s “Muslim ban” and his efforts to unilaterally build a border wall and rewrite immigration policy.

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