From Publishers Weekly
In this contentious study, Berkeley law prof and former Justice Department official Yoo reprises the brief for expansive presidential power that made him one of the Bush administration's most controversial aides. He focuses on a handful of presidents—Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and FDR—who, he argues, extended executive authority in novel ways to surmount crises without letting an inherently slow, disorganized, corrupt, and pusillanimous Congress get in the way. In his account, these great presidents started wars without congressional authorization, suspended habeas corpus, detained security risks, secretly wiretapped, remade the economy, and unilaterally interpreted the Constitution. All of this, he insists, comports with the Constitution's grant of broad, ambiguous powers to a unitary executive and, usually, with congressional consensus and public well-being. His analysis culminates in a defense of Bush administration policies on warrantless wiretapping, coercive interrogation, enemy combatants, and Iraq, and a denunciation of Obama's deviations from them. Yoo's chronicle cogently fits in Bush's initiatives with previous presidential arrogations of power. But his tacit premise that the open-ended, ill-defined war on terror compares to previous crises like the Civil War and requires similarly drastic responses will be strongly disputed by civil libertarians. (Jan.)
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Using a popular technique for ranking American presidents, Yoo refracts their historical status through the lens of Article II of the Constitution. George Washington rates number one in Yoo’s book for setting precedents: all his successors have the power to remove officials, to wage war, and to invoke executive privilege (keep secrets from Congress)—none of which is explicit in Article II—because of Washington. Yoo rates Lincoln and FDR second and third, respectively, for reasons familiar to history readers. Readers will learn about Supreme Court decisions that have pertained to the president’s powers, along with Yoo’s expansive interpretation thereof. Addressing criticism that the power pendulum has historically swung too far from Congress, Yoo rebuts with arguments that the legislature could, but rarely does, reclaim powers it has delegated to the executive. This will appeal to the core audience for constitutional law but will also draw interest based on the author’s frequent TV appearances and his notoriety—many critics regarded his legal advice to the Bush administration as anathema. --Gilbert Taylor