At some point when America is at war, terrible violations of basic constitutional freedoms will occur. So says Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Speaking at the University of Hawaii’s law school on Feb. 3, Scalia talked about World War II, where American citizens who happened to be of Japanese descent were placed in internment camps in the 1940s. This government action was taken to court and ultimately was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Korematsu v. U.S.
Korematsu is one of the most infamous cases in American history. It was an unmitigated betrayal of the Constitution’s guarantee that no one can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. How could such a thing ever happen in America? The answer, according to Scalia, is found in an ancient Latin phrase, inter arma enim silent leges.
That translates as, “In times of war, the laws fall silent.” It expresses the reality that in times of desperate conflict, those who wield military power tend to do what they think necessary, even when the law is against them.
“You are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again,” Scalia explained. It’s what happens when people becomes very scared and very angry in a wartime situation. “That’s what happens,” Scalia continued. “It was wrong, but I would not be surprised to see it again, in time of war. It’s no justification but it is the reality.”
Scalia didn’t reference any particular upcoming event or predict this would happen. But he stated as a question of when, not if. Unfortunately, Scalia’s predictions often prove prophetic.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News and a fellow with the American Civil Rights Union. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.