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Leading Voices: Michael Lewis

Feb 28, 2014

ONU law professor Michael Lewis successfully argues on behalf of U.S. drone policy in national debate

Ohio Northern University law professor Michael Lewis successfully argued on behalf of the president’s authority to use drone strikes to target American citizens abroad at the Intelligence Squared U.S. (IQ2 US) debate in Philadelphia, Pa, on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

In pre-debate polling, audience members expressed clear opposition to the proposition that the president of the United States has constitutional power to target and kill U.S. citizens abroad, with only 29 percent showing support. After the debate, polling showed that the team of Lewis and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz had provided a credible argument for the measure, swaying a vast majority of undecided voters and even some of those who previously opposed it. By the debate’s end, 54 percent of the audience supported the measure.

The subject of drone strikes, particularly those against American citizens abroad, remains a controversial topic within legal circles. When President Barack Obama authorized the drone strike on accused terrorist and New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011, he tested the limits of the executive branch’s powers. At the heart of the matter is the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees due process to all American citizens, something opponents view as being denied when drones are used.

“In our system of checks and balances, the president cannot be judge, juror and executioner,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project, who argued against the measure.

Proponents of the measure argue that when American citizens take up arms against the United States in organizations like Al-Qaeda, they are no longer protected under the Fifth Amendment and can be subject to the president’s war-making powers.

“Once the executive has received the authorization to use military force from Congress, it is then the exclusive province of the executive branch to determine when, where and how that war is fought,” said Lewis. “No other branch has Constitutional authority to challenge that decision making.”

The IQ2 debate brought together the leading legal voices on this issue. In addition to Lewis, Dershowitz and Shamsi, the debate saw Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School, argue against the motion. John Donvan of ABC News moderated the debate, which was streamed live online and recorded for future broadcast on National Public Radio stations nationwide. It was held at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pa.